Saturday, August 8, 2009

Avalon Code: Some Random Musings

I really have been meaning to write a follow-up to the post in which I assaulted the Book of Prophecy system in Avalon Code, but I feel rather torn regarding how I should follow that one up. On one hand, I feel like I really should elaborate a bit on how I think the Book of Prophecy idea could have been better implemented, but on another hand I also feel like I should just ignoring the positive side and instead describe how badly the game tortures you through the "Book Value" system. I guess all I can do is write a bit about both.

First, some more negativity.

One of the biggest issues with the Book of Prophecy is that every last page of the book has an associated "value" given by a number. Pretty much everything you do in the game other than pursuing the main storyline is related to this value. This number supposedly relates the "amount of information" contained within that page, but the method used to determine that number depends on the type of page in the book. For example, any page that allows Code alteration gives a higher value for putting more Codes on an object and giving the object more potent "Titles" created from Code combinations, with special bonuses for changing an item's form or giving a character the Title that they want the most. However, you also increase a page's book value by various things like talking to people and giving them gifts, killing monsters and juggling them with the irritatingly necessary Judgement Link attack, or just talking to your Spirits and using the powerful Spirit Magic attacks. At this point, the system doesn't sound so bad, but there are a few issues...

First, the connection between what builds up book value and the rewards you get for doing so simply are not very clear. I have absolutely no idea why making stronger weapons will cause the town's mayor to start holding a quiz minigame. I have no idea why doing well in that quiz minigame may cause a rare monster to appear. I have no idea why defeating that monster may cause some random part of the map to start producing Magic Jewels (the game's mostly unneeded currency). In effect, you just get randomly rewarded for going about and doing nothing particularly special. It is rather unsatisfying, in my opinion.

More problematically, the game isn't really rewarding you for any particular kind of activity. It is not like the game is rewarding you for doing the things you would normally do to win the game, since certain things that raise book value actually make the game more difficult, such as making monsters stronger by giving them powerful Codes and Titles. On the other hand, the game certainly isn't rewarding you for taking on greater challenges, since creating absurdly strong weapons that make battles a cakewalk will give you a lot of book value. The real problem, though, is that the game generally tends to give you a lot of book value (and other rewards) if you go around and do a lot of tedious, meaningless stuff that is mind-numbingly boring and frustrating, like checking every last square inch of most of the map squares in the game looking for things to examine (and watching the hero/heroine jump around and yell like an idiot whenever you don't find anything because the examine button is the same as the Judgement Link attack button). Basically, the game gives you a lot of rewards for doing things you will hate doing, which is a terrible game design.

Actually, there are a number more things I could complain about regarding how the game is so miserly in handing out good rewards and seems to enjoy in tormenting the player, but I really should focus a bit more on more constructive and positive endeavors. If I don't, I may go crazy thinking about how stupid I was to fall prey to some of that inanity. At least the experience taught me the rules behind solving 24-puzzles...

So, on to how things could have been better.

There are two things you see Avalon Code's Book of prophecy system that probably could have been used to better effect: unique special Codes and Codes that can't be freely removed from a page of the Book. In the actual game, these two things always coincide, and are always seen as problems that need to be removed, with the special Codes always vanishing when the problems they represent are cleared up. I think the system would be a bit better if unalterable Codes were far more common (with even normal, non-unique Codes being often unalterable), and unique special Codes could be removed and used on other pages of the Book. This arrangement would enable three things. First, making it harder to alter the Codes of something like an NPC or a monster would help the Code system have a stronger connection to the actual gameplay and characterization, since it would be easier to determine what codes like "Justice" or "Snake" are actually supposed to represent. Second, having two different tiers of Codes, with both common Codes (which you can create as many of as you like) and unique Codes, would allow a system where it is valuable to collect Codes, but also easy to alter the arrangement of a single page of the Book without having to flip through pages of the book searching for Codes or pull apart other code arrangements. Finally, it would allow a differentiation between Codes that add Titles and Codes that change the nature of an object in a way that could potentially remove the need for Metalize recipes, thus making Codes treasures in of themselves and encouraging greater player creativity.

Of course, a few other things would also need to be done. A greater connection between the Book and the reality of the game world could be emphasized by letting actions of the game characters more directly affect the contents of the Book. For example, instead of having to unlock a problem Code by adding a Title to a character, you could unlock it through the direct actions of solving that character's problems. As another example, instead of directly removing an enemy's Stone code using the Book whenever you want, you would instead weaken the monster's Code by adding another Code that contradicts the Stone, then hit the enemy with bombs and hammers in order to deactivate the Code, which would give you an opportunity to hurt the enemy with sword attacks as if the Stone code didn't exist. Any kind of greater interaction between Codes and real game states would have made Avalon Code a lot more interesting.

I think that is about enough commentary on that game for now. I've got too many other games to write about.

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