On risk, reward, goals and purpose

I’ve played this game for a long time, a very long time, on and off. It’s the same problem every time:

Cataclysm is boring.

This isn’t a troll-thread, and I’m reasonably certain that I’ve mentioned this before. The early game has always been the most enjoyable. It is the only moment which presents any sort of a challenge. I understand that hordes were implemented as a way of addressing this, but have largely failed to do so. Beyond the first few days, the game transitions from one centered around stealth, combat, and loot acquisition, to one concerned with skill grinding. Hunker down and read a library of books. Craft everything you can. Build a suitable vehicle. Ostensibly, in preparation for visiting the special sites, but there is no compelling reason to visit them. There is no longer any threat to the player aside from starvation and boredom. Should I drive to another town, which offers more or less the same things as the current one? Nothing especially gained in doing so, aside from an alleviation of boredom. Should I see how deep I can go in the lab? Sure, but again, this activity is simply an alleviation of boredom. There is no game-world pressure to do anything at all aside from sit in your happy comfy fortress; Rather, the game actively punishes risk.

NPC Quests, too, exist for variety, but they don’t tie in to any sort of narrative arc. They’re ultimately bland and inconsequential.

Yes, there’s a whole discussion to be had about “open” game-worlds. What’s the point of an open world if everything is just the same no matter where you go?

Games like DCSS, Cogmind, ADOM and IVAN work because there’s something to do, while Cataclysm just continually spins its wheels. It’s frustrating that this game never seems to develop beyond this one sticky issue.

Can you be more specific in what you are suggesting?

Also have you tried turning down the time before zombies mutate, or playing as a broken cyborg?

Incoming Novel!

Every game, regardless if it is open ended or not, has an end to the amount of variety forced on a player. At this point a game stops handling new goals and leaves the responsibility up to the player, essentially becoming a sandbox. This is also where people tend to get bored and stop playing or start a new game, only for the cycle to repeat. Although this responsibility can lead to players coming up with interesting and unique ways to play the game, it becomes an issue when trying to appeal to a wide audience.

A way to prolong this issue is to increase variety, which is done in Cataclysm with the use of RNG and a whole heap of content. By doing this, cataclysm is “infinitely” enjoyable to people who have not learned the system, turning initial frustrations into enjoyable learning experiences (usually only seen as enjoyable in hindsight). But this feeling of exploration and adventure fades with experience, often going hand in had with progression. Because a game will eventually run out of variety (learning how the game works contributes to this loss), a game can never be infinitely enjoyable.

The best solution (although almost never the most feasible one) would be to introduce enough variety to last an entire life span. This would obviously require a ludicrous amount of effort and as such is not used. But, varying from game to game, a compromise between an absence of content and infinite content is established, with many different factors determining the outcome. Some of these factors could be: funding, program structure, modularity with regards to game mechanics, developer team size and communication, and demand for a finished or complete project.

My recommendation for Cataclysm:
To increase variety I suggest using a mechanic that causes certain events based on large lapse of time. For instance: Project Zomboid, which heavily draws from Cataclysm, has a system where the water and electricity, for the map you are surviving in, will shut off after a few weeks to a month in game. Because of this, Project Zomboid has an underlying feeling of apprehension that brings urgency and meaning to your actions leading up to this event, creating an enjoyable experience. Another example is Don’t Starve and the looming countdown to winter, again bringing urgency and importance to decisions. Cataclysm does have something of its own with the monster evolution, but most players are able to eventually overcome this on every playthrough.

Some of these mechanics for cataclysm could be:

[ul][li]A temporary emergence, almost invasion (more full scale than what is currently happening on earth) of the blob hive mind, maybe even suddenly advancing zombie evolution through the roof, only to die down a bit afterwards.[/li]
[li]An occasional acid rain season that forces the player to protect their bodies (and items/vehicles) in different ways than they normally would.[/li]
[li]Another, more extreme, dimensional tear that lets hell reach into the players plane even further, if not only for a year or two before collapsing.[/li]
[li]A military occupation by another country or even the remnants of the United States, maybe establishing a few permanent bases and a bunch of temporary ones.[/li]
[li]Some event that, if the player is not careful, will trap or teleport them somewhere where they need to use their skills to survive.[/li]
[li]Flooding (rivers/lakes could extend their banks for a time)[/li]
[li]Bridges and/or buildings could collapse with time.[/li]
[li]Triffids and The Mycus adding new groves and towers/flowers/blooms map tiles based one nearby preexisting ones.[/li]
[li]Issues with the atmosphere that cause extreme heat or cold, or even ambient surface radiation, for a season or two.[/li]
[li]A massive influx of airborne diseases or pollutants, ranging from light to heavy concentrations, that forces a player to wear anything from a simple face mask to a full gas mask in non sealed places.[/li]
[li]Many, many more… the list is practically infinite.[/li][/ul]

All of these things can have periods of years ranging anywhere from one to twenty; the ones that are the most cataclysmic (totally intended) should have periods of about ten or more years to keep the game fresh for extreme late game characters. This very long period also keeps people from experiencing it early on and from learning of its effects and ways to be easily avoided. An easy way to explain the positive effect that these events (with the correct implementation) could have is to look at Cataclysm from the perspective of a new player. A new player will arguably really suck at the game, dying frequently and not getting too far before having to restart. Each time this person plays a new game, their average survivor lifetime will increase, almost exponentially. Because of this non-linear increase, the game would be ill-suited to player progression if the difficulty, or challenges, appeared in a linear fashion. What would be worse is if the events were purely RNG, and could happen at any time. This could, again, lead to the player prematurely learning of an event’s structure and would most likely end up killing them anyway.

TL;DR: A suggestion to add difficult and game changing events five to twenty years after world creation, aimed at extending the game’s enjoyability.

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[quote=“jacob.exe, post:3, topic:14427”]Incoming Novel!

Every game, regardless if it is open ended or not, has an end to the amount of variety forced on a player. At this point a game stops handling new goals and leaves the responsibility up to the player, essentially becoming a sandbox. This is also where people tend to get bored and stop playing or start a new game, only for the cycle to repeat. Although this responsibility can lead to players coming up with interesting and unique ways to play the game, it becomes an issue when trying to appeal to a wide audience.

A way to prolong this issue is to increase variety, which is done in Cataclysm with the use of RNG and a whole heap of content. By doing this, cataclysm is “infinitely” enjoyable to people who have not learned the system, turning initial frustrations into enjoyable learning experiences (usually only seen as enjoyable in hindsight). But this feeling of exploration and adventure fades with experience, often going hand in had with progression. Because a game will eventually run out of variety (learning how the game works contributes to this loss), a game can never be infinitely enjoyable.

The best solution (although almost never the most feasible one) would be to introduce enough variety to last an entire life span. This would obviously require a ludicrous amount of effort and as such is not used. But, varying from game to game, a compromise between an absence of content and infinite content is established, with many different factors determining the outcome. Some of these factors could be: funding, program structure, modularity with regards to game mechanics, developer team size and communication, and demand for a finished or complete project.

My recommendation for Cataclysm:
To increase variety I suggest using a mechanic that causes certain events based on large lapse of time. For instance: Project Zomboid, which heavily draws from Cataclysm, has a system where the water and electricity, for the map you are surviving in, will shut off after a few weeks to a month in game. Because of this, Project Zomboid has an underlying feeling of apprehension that brings urgency and meaning to your actions leading up to this event, creating an enjoyable experience. Another example is Don’t Starve and the looming countdown to winter, again bringing urgency and importance to decisions. Cataclysm does have something of its own with the monster evolution, but most players are able to eventually overcome this on every playthrough.

Some of these mechanics for cataclysm could be:

[ul][li]A temporary emergence, almost invasion (more full scale than what is currently happening on earth) of the blob hive mind, maybe even suddenly advancing zombie evolution through the roof, only to die down a bit afterwards.[/li]
[li]An occasional acid rain season that forces the player to protect their bodies (and items/vehicles) in different ways than they normally would.[/li]
[li]Another, more extreme, dimensional tear that lets hell reach into the players plane even further, if not only for a year or two before collapsing.[/li]
[li]A military occupation by another country or even the remnants of the United States, maybe establishing a few permanent bases and a bunch of temporary ones.[/li]
[li]Some event that, if the player is not careful, will trap or teleport them somewhere where they need to use their skills to survive.[/li]
[li]Flooding (rivers/lakes could extend their banks for a time)[/li]
[li]Bridges and/or buildings could collapse with time.[/li]
[li]Triffids and The Mycus adding new groves and towers/flowers/blooms map tiles based one nearby preexisting ones.[/li]
[li]Issues with the atmosphere that cause extreme heat or cold, or even ambient surface radiation, for a season or two.[/li]
[li]A massive influx or airborne diseases or pollutants, ranging from light to heavy concentrations, that forces a player to wear anything from a simple face mask to a full gas mask in non sealed places.[/li]
[li]Many, many more… the list is practically infinite.[/li][/ul]

All of these things can have periods of years ranging anywhere from one to twenty; the ones that are the most cataclysmic (totally intended) should have periods of about ten or more years to keep the game fresh for extreme late game characters. This very long period also keeps people from experiencing it early on and from learning of its effects and ways to be easily avoided. An easy way to explain the positive effect that these events (with the correct implementation) could have is to look at Cataclysm from the perspective of a new player. A new player will arguably really suck at the game, dying frequently and not getting too far before having to restart. Each time this person plays a new game, their average survivor lifetime will increase, almost exponentially. Because of this non-linear increase, the game would be ill-suited to player progression if the difficulty, or challenges, appeared in a linear fashion. What would be worse is if the events were purely RNG, and could happen at any time. This could, again, lead to the player prematurely learning of an event’s structure and would most likely end up killing them anyway.

TL;DR: A suggestion to add difficult and game changing events five to twenty years after world creation, aimed at extending the game’s enjoyability.[/quote]
Whoa, all of this is amazing. I think this’d totally make the end-game something that would be looked forward to, and striven to reach, as opposed to dreaded, knowing you’ll lose interest.
I guess that those of us with 91 day seasons would have to be extra patient though, waiting five or so in game years. That’s not a problem though, plenty of time to build up for the big stuff you mentioned.
Maybe stuff like you suggested could happen in the late mid-game, and early end-game. Just, on a much smaller scale and level of danger/excitement than blob invasions and military occupation.

Jacob seems to have gotten the general idea down; the Cataclysm is emphasized to be a transitional state. The world is still settling into a new equilibrium after the nether factions were introduced to the biosphere and the previous most influential faction (humans) was reduced to less than 1% of its strength, and the human population can’t grow nearly as quickly as the blob, Triffids, or Mycus. There need to be events and changes that reflect this change and affect both the world and the player. The Mycus, Triffids, and the blob will all be constantly expanding their territory. And all of these changes being made to the world need to present greater challenges for the player to overcome, so that gameplay does not become stagnant and a motive is provided for the player to continue progressing: adapt, or be overrun.

Adding on to Jacob’s list,

[ul][li]The blob would also be expanding its territory, creating more blob pits and eventually turning those slime pits into something else (according to the Design Outline, “the Slime Pits are the best it’s done, and they are NOT where it wants to be.”) The blob’s natural form, whatever it may be, can be presented to the player as a greater challenge.[/li]
[li]The triffids and mycus might also develop more powerful forms once they have terraformed enough of the area to their liking. I would not mind seeing stronger triffids based on certain species of tree:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_superlative_trees. How does fighting a triffid 95.7 meters tall sound? Swinging arms literally the size of tree trunks?[/li]
[li]The mi-go are supposed to be intelligent. It can be expected that more of them will arrive, in greater numbers, and with alien technology. Their technology may also provide another tier of equipment for the player to take advantage of when fighting these new threats.[/li][/ul]

The lack of late-game progression isn’t due to a lack of interest, but rather resources. I’d very much love to add the kinds of things you’re describing, but have been bogged down with either bugfixing, early/mid game balance issues (ranged handling code and accuracy overhaul), or early/mid game challenges (hordes). Unfortunately it’s hard to justify the late-game work if we don’t feel like the early and mid-game stuff is totally solid yet.

A totally new concept here is having an escalated level of risk selected on a per-game basis. We had thought about having regional risks occur (specifically in the context of something like an “acid nexus” appearing in a lab, unleashing a fountain of acid, biohazards, radiation, etc on the surroundings, but we hadn’t put any thought into having the game pick a unique global risk for each game, which I think is a really cool idea. Even if you know the whole list of potential disasters, there would probably be a bit of scrambling at the end to prepare for some of the nasty occurrences that could crop up.

Probably the lowest-hanging fruit here is spawning some super-enemies, since they don’t require overhauling big chunks of game code (though if you’re interested in making any of the effects listed here happen and have an idea about how to go about it, don’t let me stop you). I have zero problem merging enemies that will require players to expend massive resources to take them down, because in late game you have those resources. Likewise enemies that effectively require use of vehicles or power armor in order to successfully fight them are allowable. The only hard restriction is that such super-enemies should generally not be interested in the player unless they make a nuisance of themselves.

Another avenue to explore if you have c++ coding abilities is enemies that organize, we have two examples (brain blob and Thriller) of enemies that take control of their friends, even blobs might be a bit dangerous if they start using encirclement tactics.

[quote=“Kevin Granade, post:6, topic:14427”]The lack of late-game progression isn’t due to a lack of interest, but rather resources. I’d very much love to add the kinds of things you’re describing, but have been bogged down with either bugfixing, early/mid game balance issues (ranged handling code and accuracy overhaul), or early/mid game challenges (hordes). Unfortunately it’s hard to justify the late-game work if we don’t feel like the early and mid-game stuff is totally solid yet.

A totally new concept here is having an escalated level of risk selected on a per-game basis. We had thought about having regional risks occur (specifically in the context of something like an “acid nexus” appearing in a lab, unleashing a fountain of acid, biohazards, radiation, etc on the surroundings, but we hadn’t put any thought into having the game pick a unique global risk for each game, which I think is a really cool idea. Even if you know the whole list of potential disasters, there would probably be a bit of scrambling at the end to prepare for some of the nasty occurrences that could crop up.

Probably the lowest-hanging fruit here is spawning some super-enemies, since they don’t require overhauling big chunks of game code (though if you’re interested in making any of the effects listed here happen and have an idea about how to go about it, don’t let me stop you). I have zero problem merging enemies that will require players to expend massive resources to take them down, because in late game you have those resources. Likewise enemies that effectively require use of vehicles or power armor in order to successfully fight them are allowable. The only hard restriction is that such super-enemies should generally not be interested in the player unless they make a nuisance of themselves.

Another avenue to explore if you have c++ coding abilities is enemies that organize, we have two examples (brain blob and Thriller) of enemies that take control of their friends, even blobs might be a bit dangerous if they start using encirclement tactics.[/quote]
If I may ask, does Cataclysm have a predetermined vision for what it will end up like? And if it does, how organized is it?
Or is it in a state of, find problem - fix problem, think of idea - implement idea?

It seems like having a very large hobbyist developer group allows for a massive amount of combined content to be created with minimal effort by any one person, at the expense of continuity and organization. If this is the case with Cataclysm, I can see those issues only getting worse with time.

Yes

https://discourse.cataclysmdda.org/search?q=@kevin.granade

You are discounting the existence of someone who imposes that continuity by signing off on all changes. In other words, me. People occasionally get upset when I veto things, but having sole control over project direction is what gives us the continuity we do have.

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Wow, excuse my ignorance but I did not realize that you had this much responsibility with regards to organizing this project. It must require a ton of dedication to filter all of the proposed changes and, as a big fan of C:DDA, you have my respect.

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Ah. Design outlines. I was not aware of those / had forgotten / haven’t seen 'em in a while. I’ll read through that soonish. My point/complaint may have been a non-issue/already addressed. Sorry again for my rant.

No problem at all, we very much want to add the kind of content that’s being discussed here, but haven’t gotten around to it. More discussion is always welcome though, especially when it brings up new ideas like this one has.

I’ve had a dream for a long time of a base building mechanic revolving around rescuing scientist and engineer NPCs and having them research and develop new tools to help you fight the apocalypse. They would send you out to gather supplies from new labs, which would encourage exploration and reveal a lot more backstory in the process. Some of the things they could develop for you might include things like a small advancement in the efficiency of your power armor, a specialized focusing lens for your laser rifle, or even a new flavor of mutagen.

This would be accompanied by a mechanic that randomly generates obstacles in the world, like unstable portals, roving groups of bandits, opening hellmouths, etc. The scientists would help develop methods to counter these new obstacles, provided you continue to keep them safe and supplied. There could be a balance with this as well, you have the choice of leaving a portal open for an extended time to gather more valuable resources, but you risk having your base sieged by various interdimensional creatures.

Additionally, as part of the end game, there would be more missions involved in establishing contact with other survivors and the remaining military/government structure. Perhaps the government decides they want your group of scientists, and you’re forced to give up your researchers, engage in conflict against the government, or use your speech skill to convince them to designate you as a forward operating base.

I would also love to see specialized NPCs as a way to bring back more “pre-cataclysm” style things, like a skilled engineer NPC with a few pieces of equipment can create factory-quality bullets, instead of reloaded ammo.

A giant part of blandness in the game comes from player’s ability to “specialize” in everything, given time.
Having a player be only able to fulfill a limited set of roles could be good both for replayability and NPCs.
Say, a mechanic player would not be able to craft mutagen without a scientist NPC to help, a scientist player would not be able to utilize all bionic slots (once those are ready for the game) and high-tier bionics without the help of a cyborg engineer etc.

Though I have no idea how could the specialization picking be done. All complex jobs are learned over many years in pre-cataclysmic universities. But then, having a literal moron craft a railgun all by himself isn’t any more sane than arbitrarily picking a specialization and having it only get “truly unlocked” later. Could require having non-zero skill - ie. can’t pick mechanic as specialization with 0 skill in it at chargen.

A lot of this thread is red herring. “This is boring, so let’s double down on it!” Having even more content helps to keep things fresh, but the my-number-is-bigger-than-yours mechanics are never going to be that compelling by themselves. From the place the game is right now it would be easier to prod the player to role-play and stress aesthetics than to improve combat.

How about a Brotherhood of Steel type of faction? NPCs wearing power armor could prove to be an interesting challenge, especially if they actively go after the player.

But then they’d become an easy source of power armor once the player is able to deal with them… But it’s something to run away from in early/mid game.

So the problem persists: In current balance the player will always eventually become too powerful.

How about… enemies that can’t be killed, but can be run away from? Or ones that keep coming back to kill the player unless the player does something in particular, like complete a very hard quest?

yeah, i would like to mention that in previous game i went for doing NPC missions after i ran out of stuff to do alone. and that was fun. until the missions stopped suddenly while things were half built. bit annoying that.

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More than likely to happen would be a Walking Dead event. Ala, one group gets bigger than the others and tries to take supreme power. After THAT would happen would be the Year/s of hell where bye the zombies of the nation have grouped and herded to such numbers as to be almost constantly attacking the groups on all fronts. Remember we have 300 million people in the US and Canada would add to those ranks without any true border left.

Funny thing is I really do not see the “end” as being exactly an end. What if the player ends up with a game that ends rather well. Their group never had much happen and herds went the other direction and avoided them. Why not just rebuild? Take that army base for example. Turn that into a walled city full of people. Grow your own crops. Raise your own animals. Have NPCs get technical and maintain jobs, duties and craft stuff. This game can get really in depth but truly. Let kevster make the crap leading up to that solid like the man said :slight_smile:

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The weather suggestions seem the easiest to implement. As a safeguard to protect new characters, I would tie the likelihood of extreme weather to the monster evolution factor (so Acid Rain wouldn’t be common until you start encountering elite grenadier zombies, for example). Randomly offset the global temperature by up to 20 degrees celcius each season. Add a “heat wave” weather that blisters anyone who isn’t indoors (just like rain makes anyone outdoors wet). Add “dark cloud” weather that completely blocks out the sun (similar to existing heavy rainstorms, but more severe). Add hailstorms that outright deal damage!

I’m willing to bet even I could make a simple mod that does at least a few of these. I should make a list of easy mods I might be able to make.

So, in game design terms, there are actually some pretty straightforwards ways to add more serious end-game style challenges to open-world games. Not trivial to implement, but definitely do-able.

Generally speaking, a heavily open world game gives little story control over where major elements appear in a game. The equivalent of an end-game dungeon could be placed in the far corner of the game world, or it could be a block away from where you start. You can write routines to moderate that placement to some degree, but you can’t have TOO many restrictions, or it becomes a designed world rather than an open one. In any case, placement and world constraint can’t really moderate the player’s access to end-game scenarios and content in an open world game.

However - player activity and skills CAN. If I have certain key player actions trigger major changes to the game world, or open access to late game areas that are otherwise sealed off, then I can create stepped challenges in the game. Terraria does a great job of this, while still retaining a fairly ‘open-world’ feel to it.

In this methodology, most serious story elements, later dungeons, bosses or end-game puzzle rooms are tightly sealed within local complexes (like a sealed lab or vault), and/or summoned by player actions. Say, by setting up a specially coded transponder at any radio station tower, after hacking the special transponder codes out of a basic lab’s computer system, or something.

Usually this results in a couple things happening. Maybe a boss or a major story NPC shows up shortly after the player does the thing - and perhaps one or more major parameters of the world change, often with the end result of making the place more dangerous. Now there’s a daily risk of acid rain, or the seasonal temperature variations double, making the world fundamentally more inhospitable, or a new faction of enemies appears in the overworld that previously were only ever found in a special dungeon, or most of the previously ‘natural’ animals start developing into far more dangerous mutated varieties.

This sort of design allows you to make major shifts in difficulty and a general change of tone in an open procedural world that takes individual player pace and strategy into account - rather than using time to evolve the world, which tends to punish cautious strategies by ‘outrunning’ them.

In CDDA story terms, the easiest examples of these would be for the player to be completing research experiments from the labs, or implementing unfinished last-ditch plans/super weapons that the military was working on, or cooperating (or undermining) some major plan from a surviving NPC faction, or committing some crazy interaction with a set of portals and artifacts, again marginally guided by lost, last minute notes from some dead scientist or survivor - each of these could readily have major impacts on the world, and represent another unfolding ‘phase’ of the cataclysm.

It’s also fairly easy to seal some of the more interesting later game development behind these things. If I need to explore an Alpha-security lab with its lower level biology and tech books in order to hack the codes that I need to get into a Gamma-security lab with its higher level books or a Military Lab with its specialized CBM removal/installation tools, then I may not be able to move past the earliest steps of the Mutation development chain or the CBM development chain until I make it past some of these major game events.

I’ve stated it before but I believe limiting the world size, making it an island or something should greatly improve storytelling and immersion.

Also relieve some cpu and disk strain.
Your decisions mean more when you can’t just wander over and generate more untouched world forever and ever.

Makes everything seem purposeless when the world that I’ve got means nothing because there’s always fresh milk yonder.

Having to live with the damage you’ve caused to the world tells a much better story than moving until you’ve found something untouched ever will.

A lore friendly excuse for this island is global warming, floods, ect.