Ghost's Game Design Rants

yeah, I’m making quite a bit of design threads so I’m compiling the two I’ve already made into one thread! I’ll only really bump this thread once every two to four new design rants.

Doors are Based

Doors! One of the least interesting things in fire emblem’s map design, or is it? My argument is that doors are one of if not the most interesting and versatile tile in the base gba fe games. Just to refresh you on what a door does in case you’ve gotten a sudden case of memory loss

doors are impassible terrain that your character can open with a doorkey or a lockpick (thief exclusive) while rogues can open doors naturally.
doors can also be opened through events since it requires a map tile change

so what’s so special about doors? For one, it’s one of the few if not the only terrain type that can be modified by the player as well as through an event, this can give the player more control over the situation or suddenly tear that control away from them

doors can also present a way to block too many enemies from hoarding the player without the need of reinforcements, unless you specify within the enemies AI red units will not move until they can actually reach you, meaning that the player can move at their own pace and see upcoming challenges and prepare for it.

Doors can also be a good way of making maps more interesting

Example from chapter 7 of my own hack which you can play for yourself

here (FEU doesn’t allow hyperlinks in summary headers)

as you can see there are three doors, you open each of these by killing each of the three bosses, the elder bael, the wight, and the cyclops to obtain doorkeys. While the formation in the prep screen highly encourages the player to split their army up into three main groups the fact that you need to kill bosses on two sides of the map pretty much requires you to split your army to play efficiently, while it isn’t the most innovative of map ideas it still goes to show how adding doors to maps can prove to aid unique maps objective. It’s also important to note that at this time in the game the player has no lockpick or extra doorkeys, stopping them from blitzing the chapter within a few turns.

While doors can be very versatile and useful for map creators, it does come with a few issues that may arise from poor choices.

1.) it is surprisingly easy to put the player in a softlock position with doors that are required for map objectives, so easy in fact that Thracia 776 infamously has a few moments where you can be softlocked because you don’t have a thief or doorkeys. Always be sure that the player has methods of being able to unlock important doors, whether that be giving the player a thief or having doorkeys drop from enemies in that chapter. While yes it is technically still possible the player could softlock themselves when giving them a thief if they are recruited the same chapter the doors need to be opened, it mostly falls on the player’s own lack of foresight for letting them die.

2.) Thieves and doorkeys are hard to keep track of. If you’re many chapters into your hack and you want to create a fun map using doors it’s important to consider what the player may already have on them, how many thieves to they have, how many lockpicks should they have maximum, how many doorkeys are available to them before the chapter starts? It’s a lot to keep track of in order to avoid easy cheese however there are a few ways to make it easier on yourself

a) limit the amount of doorkeys the players can obtain to the exact number of doors required to open in previous chapters as well as making doorkeys unbuyable
b) make lockpicks infinite use. If designed around making lockpicks infinite makes keeping track of possible number of keys easy
c) don’t give the player any thieves.
d) keep a spreadsheet, track how many doors are needed to be opened to proceed in a every map and subtract it by the number of lockpick uses and doorkeys you get to get you max number of tools and subtract every openable chest and door by the number of doorkeys and lockpick uses to get your minimum number of tools.

in conclusion
doors are pretty based so use them effectively when designing maps.

How to Create a Main Character

This was originally a comment on a community thread about what makes a main character, I figured I would throw it in here along with an original rant, enjoy :slight_smile:

it’s important to consider the role the main character fills when deciding how they should act, they have to be charismatic or important enough to have an army, they are the only playable character that can have a consistent and permanent character arc due to always being in the story, and they need to drive the plot forward.

I think the best example of what I mean is looking at how Dimitri is handled in Three Houses. Looking at the Azure Moon route, Dimitri is only able to push forward thanks to the people that were already with him before the time-skip, Byleth, Gilbert, Felix, and Rodrigue. Without having those people around or being as crazy as he is pre-time-skip would make it incredibly difficult to justify why anyone would follow him and how he would drive the plot forward.

Dimitri’s character arc was intertwined with his role in the story, neither was an afterthought, this is what you want to aim for when creating a main character.

You also don’t want your lord to have certain traits that would make it difficult to justify how they get into conflict, an example of this problem would be Chrom from Fire Emblem Awakening, overall I think Awakening’s story is pretty good but there are certain points where it feels like the story is bending over backwards to give Chrom a reason to move forward, the most obvious example is how Virion is used as a metaphorical sacrificial lamb to give Chrom and co a reason to actually go to Valm, and how Maribelle seeing Gangrel’s army and Gangrel himself happening to be there was used as the inciting incident for act one.

despite what many believe having a ‘generic’ lord personality of noble and purehearted isn’t inherently a bad thing, my mind immediately turns to the amazing storytelling of FE8, Eirika, the purehearted lord is shown consistently to believe that Lyon can be saved, even going so far as to relinquish the renais sacred stone to him and she eventually overcomes her weakness and is able to accept that Lyon is dead and can not be saved and fight him alongside Ephraim, the noble lord who is shown to be the person who accepts that Lyon is gone, most people think that Ephraim is boring because of this and I tend to disagree

The entirety of FE8 deals with how people deal with loss, Eirika and Ephraim are merely two sides of the same coin in that regard, Ephraim ignores his sense of loss and pushes forward with unflinching resolve, while Eirika can’t accept the loss and keeps telling herself that Lyon can be saved, neither are shown to be greater than the other, Eirika finds it in herself to accept the loss and move forward, while Ephraim is able to face the reality that he simply ignored.

Strong character writing is essential for a lord, be sure to allow for situations that allow the lord to both show their strength and weakness, and give them an actual stake in the story, give them something to care about and something to protect, and have the protected be threatened or even taken, allow the lord to reach an all-time low before allowing them to rise up once more and overcome the challenge in their way, or don’t, as long as it’s done correctly, a story where the lord fails can work.

anyway I’ve been typing long enough, just do what you feel is best and you’ll be able to make a main character you’re proud of!

What is Your Hack Gimmick?

Gimmicks are something that are in every game, romhack or otherwise, a gimmick is simply put a selling point of a game or a unique feature of it, think Wii Fit with the balance board and the promise of making you ‘‘healthy’’ or the N64 with it its stupid, stupid, stupid three pronged controller.

romhacks in particular need gimmicks in order to stand out, just to name a few examples, Iron Emblem was built around you having a limited amount of faceless soldiers as well as being built around a true ironman playstyle, even going so far as to remove the save feature entirely.

The Last Promise was the first notable fully custom FE romhack

The White Feather is based on real world history drawing us in with enticing graphics and an interesting story

If any of these interested you, congrats, you proved that gimmicks are necessary for hacks to shine, by the by go check each of those hacks out, they’re pretty popular already but just in case you’ve never heard of them just search them up in the search bar at the upper right corner of FEU.

As you can see gimmicks add variety to hacks, it also opens the door to new design and gameplay challenges.

I believe the best example of a gameplay gimmick that enhances gameplay is Fate’s low HP gimmick, throughout the game most of your characters will never get above 30-35 HP, this allows for even the bulkiest of tanks like Camilla and Xander be in danger of death when used in tandem with debuffs like ninjas and skills like poison strike, this is the ideal of a gimmick, something that enhances gameplay while helping it stand out.

I personally am biased towards the gimmick of ''keep the player from having a really helpful resource until way later on than it normally would be kept for", my favorite variant being the ‘‘no healer’’ version

anyway that’s about it this time, I’ve been slacking on this thread but I’m hoping to add more to it soon enough.

Gunter and Why Skills are Important

Yep I’m back with Fates! Although this time it’s less so about Fates itself and more so an analysis of one unit and how it can apply to romhacks that use skills.

So Gunter, he’s available in 2/3 routes of Fates, he is available from the route split on in Revelation and from chapter 15 onward in Conquest, while he either starves to death or is murdered in Valla in Birthright. Gunter has access to both the cavalier class line as well as the wyvern and mercenary class line, in addition, Gunter essentially has the effect of two eternal seals, letting him level to 30 instead of 20 and has faster exp growth due to his internal level. Gunter’s growth rates are atrociously bad, having even lower personal growths than generic captured units, his bases also stop him from keeping up with your main army even through the next chapter.

So what’s the big deal with Gunter? He seems like an awful unit that dramatizing the gimmick of the Jagen, that’s what most people initially think anyway, I’m here to tell you that any notion of Gunter being bad is wrong, Gunter is, in my opinion, one of the strongest characters in Conquest due to two things.

  1. Gunter’s available skills and reclass options
  2. Gunter’s ExP yield and level 30 cap
    Let’s break each of these down.

Starting with Gunter’s reclassing options we can rule out the mercenary paths due to the ill suited skills for Gunter such as rally skill and good fortune, that leaves us with Butler/Strategist from Jakob and whatever class female Corrin is.

Butler is a decent option for Gunter, he has decent strength for a sizable portion of the game, can give a bonus to magic and speed as well as +15 hit and +3 damage dealt due to his personal to Corrin when they’re paired up, Gunter’s personal also activates when Corrin and Gunter are adjacent so he can be quickly unpaired and can heal Corrin while still providing a damage and hit buff.

Malig knight though, Malig knight is where it’s at. At first glance this is inferior in every way to Wyvern Lord for Gunter since his magic is essentially non-existent, however this is when we get into the main meat of this analysis

skills

the skills from Malig knight, combined with other offensive skills like defender and elbow room can boost Gunter from a nuisance to a player-phase nuke that can deal heavy damage with Elbow room, Defender, and Trample to non-mounted units on a non-terrain tile (that’s +9 damage) and deal great burn damage with savage blow (20% hp within two tiles)

but let’s not stop there
Gunter can go even further

depending on female Corrin’s heart seal choice Gunter can gain a huge boost to his usefulness, if you want to focus more on debuffs, have female Corrin choose spear fighter so he can get seal defense and speed then reclass back to butler for even more damage and debuff stacking, if you want to focus on raw damage and power, have him go berserker for axefaire and gamble and give him a Beruka’s Axe, he’ll have 60+ crit.

now then, how about that ExP yield and level 30 cap?

this doesn’t take long to explain, essentially these two things make sure that Gunter will be able to get all the skills he needs within a few chapters at the most and the increased level cap ensures that he’ll be able to get as many skills as he wants.

now let’s see where we can apply this design philosophy to our own works.

nowadays it’s simple enough to add a second seal option for every class as well as have the skillsystem patch installed so we have a good foundation, now we just need to balance it around that foundation.
In order to create a unit similar in Gunter you can simply increase the exp on that unit, give them poor stats, and incredibly easy access to second seals and skills that other units do not. There are also many other innovative ways to apply this philosophy though so do your own testing and see what sort of units you can make!

Anyway I believe this is all I have to say on this matter, I mostly created this just to express my new found appreciation for Gunter as well as address the surprising lack of creativity when it comes to using skills in GBA-emblem, even default skillsystem is so incredibly versatile that these sorts of fun units should be common-place yet the skillsystem is used so sparingly in hacks that mixing and matching class skills is horribly rigid in most hacks.

innovate with skills, make more Gunters.

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Reinforcements are good. I forgot to tell you that, but add some.

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I don’t specifically have anything directly against reinforcements, I more so used this argument for doors because reinforcements are often used poorly, for example if you use same turn reinforcements it’s easy for situations like the rutger gang of fe6 where if you’re playing blind he can just show up and kill one of your units with a crit.

this is more to say that unless you specifically want to surprise the player I would use doors to break up the action more than reinforcements, personally I don’t think difficulty should be determined by the surprise of it, it just feels more fair and transparent.

Reinforcements are great as anti-turtling method. Basically, at let’s say turn 15, when you expect the player to have already completed a map, a squad of strong units will show up where you started. If take too much time you’ll be catched in the middle.

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well, two new rants are out, the Fates one was very personal and was more fueled by the desire to try and make others see why Fates is being, in my opinion, very unfairly judged compared to other FE games
while the Undertale rant is more about game design itself and why a certain aspect of it that is mostly praised, was actually terribly handled IMO.

Fire Emblem game design is not something I consider myself to be very good at, so I can’t comment on any of the rants about that.

The Undertale rant however… I wholeheartedly disagree with it. Much like how you started your rant by saying you liked undertale, let me start mine by saying that while I liked it, I don’t consider myself a fervent undertale defender, and there are many games I consider much better, including in how they handle player choice.

You picked Undyne as an example of Undertale’s bad handling of choices, implying the fact killing her being presented as a bad thing, despite her actively wanting to kill you, is a bad decision. And I feel like that’s missing the point. The moral of Undertale’s story is that everyone deserves a second chance (especially since there are no absolutely evil character in the game. Undyne is a misguided heroine, Asgore has fucked himself up with a decision he took in a moment of grief and angers decades ago, and Flowey… is a complicated case, but still sympathetic.

You get the best ending by being the nicest to everyone, you get the worst ending by being a complete piece of shit, and trying to pick a middle ground gives you a mildly interesting (at most) conclusion. I feel that works with the game’s moral. Furthermore, I believe the most important part of choices in video games is the notion of consequences. The game makes you feel bad for things you didn’t have any obligation to do, and rewards you for going out of your way to make sure you were nice to everyone. The only reason I could agree the game’s choices are badly designed is that the reason 99% of people who start a genocide run do it is because the creator put not one but two super cool boss fights, which kind of gives an incentive to do so. However, I also admire how the boss fight that puts a stop to most genocide runs (according to like 3 reddit comments I saw 4 years ago or something) is neither Sans’ or Undyne’s, but Papyrus’. The consequences of killing the sweet cinnamon roll are more discouraging to a lot of people than getting their asses beaten by hard bosses.

I think the pitfall many games that make you want to feel bad about your actions fall in is that many of them forces you to perform those actions before calling you a monster. This was one of the main points of criticism toward The Last of Us 2, iirc. Undertale makes you feel bad for killing people because you have the option to spare each and every one of them, even the one that destroys your spare button. I think the biggest shock to most unspoiled Undertale players is murdering Toriel because they didn’t understand she’d die. I doubt this moment would be as much of a shock if she didn’t teach you how to spare monsters beforehand.

This doesn’t mean forcing the player to do horrible things only to call them/the main character a monster can’t work. OFF and Lisa, two other critically-acclaimed indie RPG, do exactly that, and they do it well, probably because just like the main characters, the player in these games had no idea what they were doing was wrong until it was too late, allowing for them to relate to each other.

In short, I think what I meant to say is that I think Undertale handles its choice system very well (apart from the incentive to do the genocide run, but even said there are also some counter-incentive), and that from my own observations, a game can afford to guilt you into doing something if 1) you had any other option or 2) you didn’t know any better until it was too late.

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Undyne’s situation presents you with someone trying to kill you with your only option being to run, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be sensible to fight back, if the game did a thing like Asgore and once Undyne reached a certain HP threshold the run option would appear that would give a whole lot more understandability to the whole message, hell if you had the option to spare monsters after a certain hp threshold in general, that would be a whole lot more understandable

my problem isn’t that the game has morals but that it practically forces you to accept their idea morality above your own in order to have any remotely satisfying conclusion

instead of naturally making you feel bad about killing the monsters of Undertale you’re instead given a half assed ending or have to do a bunch of grinding, this simply isn’t how you want to teach players that killing monsters is bad IMO, instead just let them sit in their bad decision, instead of having to grind forever have the game’s encounters just stop after a certain point, much like how Snowdin, apart from monster kid was entirely empty, instead of making them deal with the frustrating grinding just make them walk through the areas of the game in silence, no one around, no phone calls.

this could’ve had the greatest impact in hotland where you were once being bombarded with phone calls from Alphys, which at the time were admittedly annoying, now there’s nothing but silence, you just have to sit in your own wrongdoings.

as for the neutral route, you’re immediately put down this path if you so much as make one mistake, isn’t this games whole fuckig message that everyone deserves a second chance? if that’s the case then why just give players a blatantly cut down pacfist route for making mistakes?

and again the system of an RPG is inherently a bad way to present these morals, the notion that all these monsters in the random encounters are people too is ultimately meaningless because in reality, the game handles them just like Dragon Quest handles slimes, just some fodder that come back over and over, I’m not asking for the game to have a ton of unique monsters for every area, just distinguish them, like how if you kill snowdrake cooldrake shows up, and the decision to make monsters repeat is just because it’s an rpg, you get nothing out of repeatedly pacifying the monsters so why have you do this infinitely? they’re the same monsters so do they just get memory loss? It’s just a stupid mechanic that has no reason to be in the game other than to pad out the game. Why shouldn’t I kill these creatures, they all say the same exact lines, they don’t have unique lives?

to summarise, the game tries too hard to force its morals down your throat, instead of naturally having you have to come to terms with your wrongdoings, you’re instead given a half-assed and uninspired ending, save for a phone call, and a monotonous experience where the game suddenly turns into a spinning simulator.

Fates’ story sucks, it’s a serialised cartoon story forced into a video game for some reason. Character motivations make no sense and the amount of plot conviniences and plotholes is absurd.

They are however very well made as games (minus Rev, it sucks at this level too). Weapons are very distinct, having interesting traits and such (debuffing daggers being my favourite).

IDK, why don’t you kill every pidgeon you see since they are all the same and poop on your balcony?

You’re supposed to play the game for the first time killing some enemies and sparing the rest due to not knowing what is happening. The ending that intentionally hints you to replay the game with different choices so that you get that sparing everyone will get you the good ending. Killing everyone is a thing that you’re supposed not to do, genocide run is made on purpose to be as devoid of fun as possible.

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and that’s why I didn’t say why Fate’s story is good, I said why it’s being unfairly brought up every time anyone talks about it, I never said the story was good, I just said that many other FE games have bad stories too

this isn’t a good argument, the pigeons aren’t hurting you, a better argument would be if you saw a rat trying to scratch you would you try and release the rat without harming it in any way?

sorry but having to replay the same damn game with only minor differences just for two-three hours of new content at best doesn’t sit right with me, maybe that’s just me.

making it devoid of fun, and making it tedious are two different things, but the way the game makes you bored while playing it isn’t the right message, killing everything shouldn’t just make you bored, the game simply doesn’t make you feel bad for killing any character you aren’t already attached to, killing the last froggit doesn’t feel bad, it feels relieving that you’re finally done with the grinding for the moment so you can continue.

I also think that the genocide route was just plain rushed out because the mettaton neo fight was clearly meant to be more than ‘‘hey look I’m here, oh now I’m dead’’, mettaton wasn’t so important of a character that immediately killing them is impactful, instead it just feels like wasted potential and makes Alphys look even more incompetent.

Ok, seems you didn’t quite grasp a few things about the intent of the genocide route. It is 100% not ment to be fun or rewarding, it’s ment to be difficult and depressing solely because of the vehemently evil intent in pursuing and genocide hence why the music gets slower and more distorted as you kill more and more monsters.

The reason why mettaton NEO is a non fight is because at this point, from a narrative standpoint, the player is seen and a nigh unkillable juggernaut that slew the captain of the royal guard and are so uninterested in this that you just kill mettaton before they even act. If pursuing a GENOCIDE was ment to be fun then it wasn’t an genocide.

Not defending how it handled the concept of player choice, just that you may have missed the mark on how that particular path was intended to be taken.

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Sorry I didn’t intend for my argument to come off as saying that I want the genocide route to be fun, I just think the way it handles not being fun is all wrong. The game doesn’t punish you with the consequences of your actions, you’re punished with slow and tedious gameplay mechanics, why would the monsters eventually pop out? If the game wanted to make me feel bad then don’t make me annoyed instead.

It punishes you for the choice not the actual actions.

Well, a genocide would actually be a fairly tedious process.

Either way what is intended to be your punishment for doing the genocide route is it’s two “hardest” bosses, Undyne the Undying and Sans.

this is a video game, and even if the tedium of murdering every existing creature would be tedious in real life, it’s still blatantly bad design from a game design and an intentions perspective.

the only problem with this ‘punishment’ is that it directly goes against the entire route’s goal of making you feel bad for what you do, the two hardest bosses being locked behind the route you’re not supposed to go down isn’t exactly the best of ideas

Yeah, but the whole thing was designed that way on purpose by Toby Fox to somewhat parody the handling of moral choice systems that were popular at the time. Where the player was either the paragon of absolute justice who could do no wrong or absolute bastard who kicks puppies and sets children on fire. Wasn’t a particularly good parody, but it was one.

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I’m not arguing its story intentions, I made my argument that the design of the choice system that is widely praised isn’t something you should take from, as well as just plain how not to handle making the player feel bad for their own actions.

Okay, coming back to this thread because deltarune chapter 2 re-awakened the undertale fan in me lol

First off gotta love how we’ve been discussing undertale more than FE on the Fire Emblem fan forum

I’m pretty sure Mettaton NEO was meant to represent how dangerous the situation was for monsters. He is, after all, the last enemy you encounter before Sans. I like to think that, were Mettaton to use this form on a neutral or pacifist route, the player would stand no chance. But by that point you’ve grown so powerful, so unstoppable… Even he can’t do anything but die in one hit.

That’s kind of the point though. The genocide route is meant to be as painful to play as possible. You steamroll through everything, get two difficulty spikes mid-game and late-game, and that’s it. You’re being actively punished by the game, why would it be fun? It’s like saying I Wanna Be The Guy is bad game design when the entire purpose of the game is to frustratingly and painfully hard.

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yeah chapter two was amazing, the ending has to be the best part of it!

listen… I don’t know what to tell you, it’s was one discussion point of five, I don’t get it either…

I still don’t agree with its execution, making a game painful and poorly designing painful gameplay are different, the genocide route is one of the laziest ways I’ve seen to get anger from the player, instead of it seeming like the monsters want to stop you, it seems like the game wants to stop you, which should be the opposite situation because Chara is slowly taking over the player and Flowey is helping you. It also feels like you only read this quote? because I said multiple times I don’t expect the genocide route to be fun…

This is also the last time I’ll be commenting on any Undertale related discussion, let’s keep this focused on FE design.

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Heya just added two new rants to the main thread, let me know what you think!

Gunter

That is all, check the main post.

So many conflicting opinions…… my head hurts now.

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