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Shops and game design

02-06-2017, 10:16 PM,
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Shops and game design
This is probably going to be a little rambly of a post, but I'm a little stuck right now: what do I do about shops and money?

I'm not experienced at game design, so if this is a solved problem I'd like to know.  The most abstract version of this question is: what is the best way to balance finite-short-term-but-infinite long-term resources against infinite-short-term-but-finite-long-term resources?

Basically, it's about money (which is infinite in the long term), items (finite in the short term since they can only be replenished at each shop, and value ranges wildly betwqeen in-combat or out of combat), and the in-combat turn (where the time spent using an item is a costly, and very finite resource, but is unlikely to run a prepared player out of an item).

So, items range from being effectively finite out of combat where the limit is the number you will need to get to the next town, to being infinite in combat where the limit is the number you can use in a single turn.  Is it even possible to balance the items in both of these ways?

If the player plays long enough, they will have enough of all the items in the shop.  If I assume they don't, the game might be too easy for those who do.  If I assume they do, the game risks being too difficult for those who don't.  Since this is FF6, is it preferable to err on the side of the player being overpowered?

Am I overthinking this?  I am just concerned over nothing, aren't I?
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02-07-2017, 10:08 AM,
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RE: Shops and game design
It's an interesting question.

If you think about it, money is a form of experience points. Their main function is to allow you to purchase power upgrades, much in the same way that experience "buys" you power upgrades in the form of levels and stat boosts. However, unlike experience, money is affected by attrition; players will need to spend a certain percentage of their income on consumables for an upcoming dungeon. There's also a built-in delay in money-based power upgrades - you get them after clearing a dungeon and reaching the next town, rather than during the dungeon run itself.

You can think about it this way: consumables are a money sink, just like spells are MP-sinks and battles in general are HP-sinks. Each resource is limited on different timescales. HP resources are immediate, MP is intra-dungeon, and money is inter-dungeon.

The way a player handles battles and attrition in the a dungeon affects their available options for an upcoming dungeon. The minimum level of attrition correlates to the minimum amount of money a player should reasonably spend on consumables, which could be considered a sort of "player tax".

The players' net income affects their ability to choose between power upgrades, and their choices during progression will influence the rate at which they accumulate surplus and thus their ability to expand their options. In each town, there's the option to spend money to upgrade gear as well as buy consumables. In the beginning of the game, the player is still getting to know the rules of the game and the only resource they have in battle is time (turns), which is practically limited by HP. Tactical options are limited; basically just damage and heal. Early game dungeons necessarily must have less tactically challenging battles, and be more focused on pure attrition. Thus, buying consumables to fight attrition should be a valid strategy.

Long-term, choosing to spend money on mitigating attrition rather than power upgrades should be a losing proposition. Players should be rewarded for thinking about the game and understanding its rules. In other words, money supply should not buy enough consumables to match the rate at which they'll be consumed if the player is undergeared.

Once the player understands this, or is expected to understand this, they will be accumulating money surplus faster than before. As the game progresses, players will also gain more tactical options, and as such, battles can offer more opportunity for making fatal mistakes. This is the time to shift the challenge away from inventory management to in-battle time management, and to shift money supply from a resource for mitigating attrition into a resource for more interesting gear options. This happens naturally as the player also gains more abilities designed to replace consumables (healing spells, status protection relics, etc).

Over time dungeons can shift away from pure attrition into more tactical challenges. That's not to say that you can't keep attrition as a factor throughout the game; just that players will learn to minimize it and thus become less dependent on consumables.

Basically consumables allow to you "trade down", ie. exchange a long-term resource for for a more immediate one. The choice to use a resource in battle essentially boils down to choosing between mitigating immediate threats (Annihilation) vs. sustained threat (Attrition). The player has to think about using consumables both in term of immediacy and sustainability. For example, choose between using a more costly Potion now, or try to kill the enemies and heal with less costly means after battle (at the risk of having to use a Phoenix Down AND a Potion to survive). Or choose between curing Poison early or just try to end the battle quickly before it does too much damage, and cure it later. Make the wrong choice and you not only risk your survival, but also waste more resources.

An example is enemies using status effects early in battle vs. later in battle. If the last enemy Petrifies a team member, it's no harm in just killing it and curing Petrify after battle. But if it happens early, you're down one team member which could jeopardize your survival, and is as least likely to result in more need for healing overall.
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