Table of Contents
Problems: Conflict of Interest
Problems: Distributed Database vs. Brain
Problems: Melding to Stone
How to make CRPG unique
Scroll Bugs and a Solution
Solution: Standards Compliance
Planning problems and a clash of ideals
Baked Cakes vs. Realtime Magic
Back to Basics
Problems: Conflict of Interest [top]
The problems experienced by TOEE users might be best described as systemic, rules based problems that were not developed by Troika, but by RPG rules publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC), a bastardized version of what TSR used to be in its hey-day, prior to the removal of a very important figure from the company: The Father of RPG, Gary Gygax, first created Dungeons & Dragons with a bunch of people who hung out with him regularly, and it was through this intensive and subjective process that the rules of all future video games were spawned. Hit points, stats, skills and all were first developed by Gary using Tolkien's work as a solid base for story and development, following the footsteps of military styled board games, yet significantly altering the process to suit a whole new genre of gameplay: the Pencil & Paper Role Playing Game (PPRPG).
Computers and people do not think alike. Computers are very rational, and people are abstract; therefore the conflict of interest between CRPG and PPRPG becomes evident. Computers want to simplify everything and the people behind d20 are interested in complicating things in order to publish more, make more money and create a gaming nexus around a very complex system. That is inherently the flaw, as WotC does not make video games, they create books and the extras that go with them; they do not wish to aid CRPG development at present time, unless it is to force CRPG to fit a mold that computers do not fit whatsoever. Therefore, games like TOEE suffer as a result of this square-peg-round-hole matching.
Problems: Distributed Database vs. Brain [top]
Where TOEE fails is symptomatic of a lack of distributed-database-friendly rules; Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, d20 and others, are systems created by non-programmers with often unbalanced rules created on a whim by those who have no idea what kind of trouble they are brewing for programmers of video games, that rely on systemic pliability for quick changes and alterations to code blocks, object oriented design and scalability; the ability to quickly create engine-rules for design on a timetable is confounded by the flighty designs of RPG paper gamers and game designers.
Gary Gygax, upon creation of the 1st ed. (original system) of D&D, had no idea whatsoever what he was getting into when it came to standards of rules and how these rules could be interpreted by computers. The rules came with as many exceptions and side effects as there are exceptions to language rules in the English language. Over a table, this is fine as the DM chooses to enforce rules as they see fit, using the rules as a guide only, whereas with CRPG, these rules have to be interpreted by a computer server client, which leads to many standards violations from a programming standpoint.
Problems: Bugs [top]
The rule in computing is that the more bugs you encounter, the further from standards you must be adhering. With a ruleset applied to paper/dice gaming, the standards are subjective and often based only on testing in a face-to-face discussion.
Problems: Melding to Stone [top]
Troika tried to apply the outsourced rules in order to gain market share by using this bleeding edge dice ruleset (on reputation alone, as AD&D core rules worked nicely for Bioware's products), when in fact the game becomes crippled by the use of this system, on many accounts. Alignment, back-story, spell complexity (especially higher level spells), and spatial intricacies of PPRPG are all affected by the difficulties porting PPRPG to CRPG.
Character creation is indeed adequate in TOEE, and the computer uses the rules to save time building a merry band of adventurers using all the rules generated by d20 3.5; when this system is easy in the beginning, it goes all downhill from here.
An example of one problem that exists in CRPG that does not exist in PPRPG is the idiot factor, when a player does something idiotic, often repeatedly, in order to hack the game in realtime; such an example is found in TOEE with the spell Meld into Stone. Meld into Stone is a cleric spell, third level, that lets the user become impervious to any damage while concentrating. The problem is that in TOEE, the character who casts this spell tricks the monsters somehow to ignoring the fireballs being hurled at them by other players. The rule, it seems, is that when a monster identifies a target, the monster will stick with the target until death. Now if it were me, and some guy is standing there like a statue, I would ignore him. I would focus my attention at the mage hurling fiery meteors at my head and make sure that mage felt more pain than was dealt me. In TOEE, an extremely powerful use of Meld into Stone is that you can place a cleric in a room and wipe out the whole room without losing one single hitpoint. Now how many DMs would allow that in PPRPG, before a 50d6 lightning bolt from God Almighty wiped out the whole party?
The Adventure [top]
In TOEE, players set out to adventure with their character(s) and, depending on your alignment, you are given a mini-quest that is rooted solely in your alignment and not your class. This is the first chip against TOEE's use of d20; what would it take to have a mini-quest given to each class/alignment suited for both these vars?
How to make CRPG unique [top]
Considering, there are nine (9) possible alignments and eleven (11) classes that you can start out with, you can now see ninety-nine possible story threads if the team decided to take a nominal DM's style of questing. PPRPG would be able to utilize this matrices and more, on the fly, to enable an excellent personalization of the experience. Instead with CRPG, it all has to be designed in advance, and that's the problem. In normal dice play, the DM would devise a starting scenario based on even more data than that, to personalize the experience; this is where the Computerized Role Playing Game (CRPG) and the Pencil/Paper Role Playing Game (PPRPG) are separated, and the later is far superior in terms of personalization. TOEE established a level cap; the rule that you may reach maximum 10th level in your total class levels, which is indeed arbitrary and yet necessary for a hard scaling of the game to suit TOEE's development cycle. Without this cap, the team would have to add countless other systems to handle higher level spells, feats and attributes.
Right away, TOEE is behind the eight ball in terms of fluidity; the publisher must be held accountable for this, as publishers set the cycles of development in terms of funding and maximum resource allocation into projects. While some would say that developers determine scheduling, I am a firm believer that the market and external factors truly determine development cycle. Atari is an arcade games manufacturer, and therefore they must have thought in terms of the arcade lifecycle, and not what Troika was going for, which was the conversion of PPRPG into CRPG (something that could have worked if enough time and money was devoted). Clearly, not enough time or money was devoted to creating a standards compliant core rules system that is scalable for future games. The engine Arcanum used was regurgitated for use with the TOEE game, in hopes of saving time. The result is a good experience, with beautiful environs and general ease-of-use, and all types of cubism present in Arcanum are missing from TOEE; therefore, any problems are not graphical in TOEE, IMHO.
More Bugs [top]
That's not to say Troika is blameless from bugs shipped with TOEE. Not all developers have the knack to manage their publishers on a need-to-know basis, and it would seem that these guys at Troika need to get some help in this area, or switch publishers for future TOEE releases. There are many bugs in TOEE that are a result of poor engine development, not ruleset issues; such as the video lag with mouse movement and pathing problems inherent in system-crushing calculations. More screen-flushing statements are obviously required in that case. Better/smarter/faster/stronger code designs could help, and that is where d20 falls down, because d20 is a complicated system that is perhaps too complicated for adequate CRPG use.
Scroll Bugs and a Solution [top]
Other bugs are indeed ruleset based, such as the bug where scrolls are created by players that have spells requiring a secondary radial menu, whereby no such menu is possible in spell-casting. Or perhaps the bugs found in the read magic spell are also a problem. These are bugs from a systemic base, in that not all spells are created equal in the d20 system, even among their rank. In a positively comprehensive system of PPRPG that is standards-based, I would intend to create a system where all characters, npcs, spells, skills, feats and items are created equal. This system is coming, and it's going to be very simple, so that it may be scalable to suit any CRPG or PPRPG system, and to adapt to any system.
Solution: Standards Compliance [top]
The first premise of this new system is that all things are created equal. Effects are equal to all other effects of the same level, and such effects are standardized to be simple to adapt to CRPG or PPRPG. Characters advance each level in standardized methods for all classes, and the only difference between character classes is the difference of ability and style, not the inherent ability scores or modifiers. Modifiers in classic RPG are bogus and unseemly; it is my approach to standardize these modifiers to create a general system of development that caters to other systems properly, without fear of overlap or blurring rules.
Planning problems and a clash of ideals [top]
TOEE has other inherent problems that are not remedied. Because the team spent so much time tweaking the d20 rules to suit CRPG, they failed to address core problems of their story-nodes, in that it is very difficult to get a lot of replay out of the game due to the very abrupt ending. Taken with the desire of gamers to continue to build their characters and play new stories, it would have been better if the game did not end, or it could be replayed in deathmatch, as it would be possible to dynamically create content for fodder. The level cap is partly responsible for a lack of deathmatching capability in single player or otherwise, and this therefore means a lack of robust gameplay at this time. My specific point being, if there is an end to player development, that is parallel to an end of character development (in what you may find in a movie), which is a show-stopper. CRPG must support infinite leveling in the future or people are going to continue to be bored or annoyed with future releases. Furthermore, future releases of content must be content only releases that add new areas of exploration and new ideas; perhaps by leaving quest creation in the hands of willing Story Tellers, or Dungeon Masters (like Neverwinter Nights, only better).
Baked Cakes vs. Realtime Magic [top]
The nodes of storytelling are short; the development of the CRPG conversion slowed the game design process to the point that content is severely lacking in this system and that this system could have been designed to wear away at the character better, or create dynamic dungeons and slaying encounters that are not surface-based. The basic problem is that Troika bit off more than they could chew, because they chose to adopt the use of d20, without the budget to do so. The hope is that this system could be standardized better to suit CRPG, and yet that is impossible because the system is built on a foundation of only paper gaming; the nerd factor is too severe to adequately aproximate anything Tolkien could have desired.
Back to Basics [top]
Tolkien emphasized story and content, through a standards of practice even in his day apparent in his work and depth of scale, that is entirely missing from the d20 system, and the system used by TOEE/Troika to deliver gaming content to the audience. As a writer, Tolkien did not emphasize standards over the whole premise of his Middle Earth, either; in that magic was at times cursed, and at times liberating, but not the end-all-be-all of its time; that could never be the case. Tolkien told a fantastic story, with rich level-less characters, who could die at any time, and perform some magic themselves, depending on their race and not their class; although there clearly were classes of fighters, wizards, clerics and monsters, that enabled certain feats; and that feats could be learned and studied to improve upon the lot of the character in question. Yet one thing missing from d20 is that while all characters are created equal to their rules, these rules tend to disrupt the flow of monsters, and all monsters are cookie-cut from a pattern, to likely save time; the characters are of character race (humanoid). Therefore, if anything is missing in d20, it's the standardized application of rules to all beings, of their age, experience, race and origin. This standardization must be applied in bulk, prior to any success in the CRPG realm.