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the Grind



The grind


Why do we grind ? (Not the dance, or the dating app)

Why do we kill trash mob after trash mob to get those levels, those crafting components ? Why do we inflict ourselves with this ?

There are 4 reasons as far as I see it.

1. Because we like it
2. Because we want that reward
3. Because we have to
4. Because we feel like or think we have to

1. Because we like it

Sometimes the grind is fun. There are entire games based around killing monster X , just to get the better gear, to kill bigger and better creatures.
Examples of these would be Monster hunter and Diablo 2 and 3. There is no grinding to get to the gameplay, the gameplay is the grind.


2. Because we want the reward

Sometimes the rewards are worth it, even if the grind is a bit dull. Grinding points in the battle arena to get that omnislash, collecting 20 dragonscales to get that dragon armour,
capturing 10 of each bird, so we can fight some special boss. Killing a 100 dragons to get an achievement. We don't necessarily want the grind, we want what the grind gives us.


3. Because we have to

We just killed the boss of the first dungeon, we're all level 3, but the next area has all enemies at level 7, so grinding we have to do. The boss wipes us in one turn , so a grinding we go.
The recommended level for the next storyquest is 10, but we're at 8 ? You got it, the grind (or badly constructed sidequest time). I have to collect 3 broken keys, but the rats only drop them 1/5th of the time? That's a grinding.

4. Because we feel we have to.

The enemies are kicking our ass? Better start grinding,(instead of learning the game mechanics) no matter that we're already overlevelled for the current area.

I ranked them because I really feel that there is a descending order of desirability here. As we move down the list, we start to remove player choice and enjoyment.

What separates the first 2 for example? The difference between intrinsic and extrtinsic rewards. 
An intrinsic one is where we do something for the sake of doing it, an extrinsic one is where we do something because we get something else from it. 
It can make the same activity feel vastly different from eachother, just by virtue of why we do it. 
It's the difference between playing tennis because I like playing tennis vs playing tennis because I'm trying to lose weight.

The difference between #2 and #3 is one of choice. If I chose to grind for that better sword or whatever, I won't actually feel resentment over it, but if I need that sword to progress, I now HAVE to grind.
If it is possible but hard to finish the quest underlevelled I feel as if I chose or did not choose to grind, and I will feel better doing it if I do it.
Now the distinction between 3 and 4 is one of communication to the player. If the designer really intended me to grind between each main story mission , and is upfront about that, sure, I might be able to stomach that.
But if I grind from level 10 to 15 only to later find out I wasn't supposed to go there yet, or there was some hidden weakness to all these enemies I had no way of finding out on my own, you can be sure I will be pissed off.

Now we have looked at it from the player side, how about we put or developpers hats on , and look at it from our side.

Why and when do we want player or do not want players to grind ? A couple of points and counterpoints:

a.    + If we designed our game around it
    - Artificially lengthens game time
b.    + Each combat is fun to play
    - We eventually buttonmash through each combat.
c.    + It smoothes out our Difficulty curve
    - Can make the game too easy

I feel like each of these sentiments can be classified along 2 axes
A. How much we want to allow the player to grind
B. How necessary it is.

It leads us to 4 situations:

1. We want to allow players to grind, and we require it
2. We don't want to have our players grind, but it is also unnecessary
3. We allow our players to grind, but it is unnecessary
4. We don't want to have our players easily and convenently grind, but it is necessary

Not all of these lead to equally fun gameplay, but I'm going to discuss what a designer might do to facilitate these kind of games.

1. If we require them to grind, and want to enable them, we should make the grind as accessible as possible, and eliminate down time.

A quickly back to town skill/item, a lure skill, some places with intentionally high monster density, some Hard, but very rewarding enemies (think metal slimes).
Maybe have a training arena where the player can just pick an enemy and fight it. Or maybe just an actual arena, like in kingdom hearts. It cut most of the story beats for just a neverending onslaught of enemies in everchanging troop composition.
Have the grind be part of the fun.

Now there are some pitfalls here. I do not advise to make the grind brainless and easy. Convenient? Yes! Easy? No! 
My solution to this is simple: have rewards for enemies below the characters level quickly drop off, either with exponential XP curves, or an actual reduced XP recieved if the enemy is too low level. 
Maybe even rewards for grinding against higher level enemies.
A big enemy and troop variety is a big must too. If I'm going to be fighting a 100 battles in this area, I want to have at least 8 enemies in at least 25 troops/configurations.

2. If it is not necessary and we want to discourage it, there are multiple solutions. 

One is the presence of only a limited number of enemies per level, but this then becomes a game of find all enemies before continueing, making the player grind nonetheless.
A slightly better solution is to only give a slight boost per level gained, combined with a steep xp curve. If it is not worth it, they will quickly stop doing it.
Having the enemies level along with the player certainly discourages levelling ( looking at you FFVIII!), this will often lead to player frustration.

A good solution, if used in moderation is to have regular enemis give very little xp, and the boss then give a very large amount. If the enemies give 5xp, but the boss gives 500 xp, I'm not going to waste my time.

A slightly different solution is to have a time limit to your quests.

A clean solution is to just have the player quickly reach maximum level (like in guildwars), or gate level progress behind game progress(FF XIII style).

Whatever you do in this situation , you have to be fair to the player. If you don't want him to grind, then he should be able to beat your game without grinding.

3. If grinding is unnecessary, but you still want to allow the players to do it, you have mainly the same things as in situation 1.

But, there is a question. If they do not have to, why would a player grind in your game ? 

One reason is that they want to choose their own difficulty in the game.
Why don't they just lower the difficulty then ? There is player pride : I beat the game on hard! (after overgrinding each area, untill the game was as easy as it was on normal)!. It is the reason I stopped picking the harder difficulties in persona. The only thing they make me do is grind more. Instead I just play on normal, but avoid overlevelling. My experience is better then going on very hard and just grinding.

It is also often the result of locking achievements or good endings behind a difficulty level barrier. 

A good reason I find are optional bosses. The ultima and omega weapons of final fantasy, the elizabeth/margaret/twins of persona, the high level hunts in FF XII/XIII, the battle arena in FFX.
If the player makes the main game too easy on himself by grinding, but he still knows where to find a challenge when he wants one, thats better.

Another fine one might be comsetics. I did not have to grind for that teddy bear armour, or the pink armour paint, but I wanted to.

In short, If grinding isn't needed, but you still want to reward the player for it, give them a nice reward to go for. 

Final fantasy often falls into this camp? I dont have to grind to finish the main game, but the grind is there if I want it.

4. The grind is/looks necessary, but I don't want the player to do it easily.

This is a weird case of it either being intentional, or the result of bad gamedesign. Let's split the 2 cases.

a. I did this intentionally.

Sometimes, grinding makes a character way stronger, and is necessary to progress, but you don't want the player to have an easy time doing it. 
This often results in the game directly fighting the player, trying to kill him. The most known example I could give are roguelikes, where each enemy you fight could be your last, but you still have to level up to fight the final boss.
A nice example of the oppressive system this entails is seen in darkest dungeon. A game where you have to level your heroes, but each one also has permadeath, and even if you don't die, you might wind up paranoid, sadistic, or suicidal permanently.

b. Oops, an accident

This is mostly caused by wrong playtesting, or just wrong design decisions.

Some examples:

You limited the encounters in an area, but the boss is actually unbeatable at the level you can get, because of a last minute xp per enemy change.

You make the enemies level along with the player, but you also insert random chance based "collect 10 bear asses that drop 10 % of the time" quests in there.

You have weapon durability, but encounters don't cover the repair costs

But whatever you choose, make sure you gave it some thought. Do I care if the player grinds, do I want him to, what happens if he does ?

In my current game, I'm going for the grinding optional, but if you do, I want to make it as easy on you as possible.

I'll have the hunt/safari/battle royal skills, that spawn 1/5/10 random encounters in a row, with rewards if you finish them all, but no healing/resting in between, so grinding is convenient if you want to.
I combine this with a custom xp curve that takes a heavy jump after each chapter end, so players can grind a bit, but are still doing the final dungeon of each chapter at the desired difficulty. for example, lv 8 to 9 costs 90 xp, lvl 9 to 10 costs 100 xp, but 10 to 11 costs 150 xp and 11 to 12 costs 200, 12 to 13 is 300 xp. The xp per enemy has equivalent jumps. Level 9 enemies might give 5 xp, but lvl 12 enemies give 20 xp. So staying at the right level is actually the best way to level up.
This combined with an ever flattening power curve means that every level is worth less than the one after it, percentage wise. level 1 to 2 sees you getting from strength 1 to strength 4, increasing your damage 4 fold. level 20 to 21 increases the same stat from 400 to 441, a 10 % increase in stat, and a 20 % increase in damage. At level 50 this is 2500 to 2600, and a damage increase of 8%.
For clarity, my stats are level(+/-1)², and damage is about att²/defense, so against an equal level enemy, this amounts to damage=attack stat (or lvl²).
This means that I can have a tight control over player progression in the beginning, but later on I can allow the game to open up, and to have a bit of non linearity.

Leveling will also only get you so far. The customisation options for the characters are locked behind dungeon completion, and not raw levelling.


Anyway, opinions ?


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I don't know about you, but when I think 'grinding' I think of staying in one place and doing the same thing over and over and over. And to me that's just kinda the result of bad (or at least lazy) game design, period. To me 'grinding' is a kind of 'safe but boring' gameplay habit that's way too easy for players to rely on. It isn't challenging or interesting, it just takes time. But not all fighting to level up or gather materials has to be 'grinding'. It's only really proper 'grinding' if you ask me if you are literally running around in circles waiting for random encounters, walking in and out of a room to get a monster to respawn so you can fight it over and over, or clearing out the exact same area over and over in the exact same way. Fighting enemies you have already fought before can still be fun as long as it doesn't literally become a mindless interaction, which it often does.


I know I might be overly fond of them, but let's look at roguelikes again. There are exceptions, but for the most part you can't really 'grind' in most roguelikes. Why? Limited resources. First of all, monsters don't just appear randomly in front of you, you have to look for them on the map and they often don't respawn. Also the more you explore the more you often need to risk. Most roguelikes have a time limit for the current floor you have to deal with, either a 'hard' time limit where if you doddle too long on a floor something bad happens, or a 'soft' time limit where you have to worry about finding enough food to keep from starving. The point of having a time limit is to push the player forward and to not allow them to mindlessly grind away.


I am not trying to say that roguelikes are perfect flawless games ( even though they are :P )  and that all games should be like them. I am just saying that one of the main reasons I find roguelikes fun is that the whole genre was practically built from the ground up with the design goal of discouraging bad player habits, pushing the player forward and not allowing them too much safety. You might not share those design goals or want to try doing it in a different way and that's fine. The important thing I think is that you are seriously thinking about the gameplay and what your goals should be.

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I see grinding, if optional, as a player choice, where he trades skill for time. The old " Let everyone finish, but only the chosen achieve glory ". I want everyone to see the final boss in my game, and complete the main plot. Now, the bonus dungeons and true ending ? Those you'll have to work for.


Grinding is also a handy developer tool. By putting in some small grind barriers, you can make sure the player isn't too hopelessly under or overlevelled for the next story bit.


There is also something relaxing about just sitting down and doing some relaxed grinding. Some nights you're not up to the razor's edge of difficulty and just want to play something for a couple of hours before falling asleep. It's the equivalent of watching some trashy movie because you're too tired to think.

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It's not like I don't understand the desire to give the player some optional way of training themselves, but can't you make better ways to train then just doing the same thing over and over to fill up time? Like optional areas or objectives maybe? It's fine to have some dungeons and other areas that mostly exist to level the player up. What I don't like is when a game just kinda stops and blocks you from doing anything until you run around in a circle doing the same thing over and over for an hour.

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Sorry for the late reply out of nowhere (Uni is in break and I have a month of lazing about).


In my current game, after a linear intro, dungeons come in groups of 3, each contributing about a lvl, but no forced order between the ones in a group. So you'll enter the lvl 10-13 dungeons at level 10, finish the first one at lvl 11, enter the second one at 11 and finish at level 12, enter the last one at 12, and finish at 13, while each dungeon is about level 11-12 in difficulty.


Someone wants to grind in the first dungeon until he is lvl 12-13 ? Fine by me, but he ain't getting far due to the exponential xp curve. I allow grinding between boundaries.


The main point , I believe is giving decent rewards per combat, but less "mash attack to win" battles. I would rather have the combats take twice as long, enabling a strategy better than mash attack, but give twice the number of xp.

Off course scaling through the game. As the game progresses combat length and complexity increases. Level 1 combat : 1-2 turns, level 50 combat : 4-5 turns. This also ties into my aim of making buffs something you cast regularly instead of being a boss battle only thing.


A thing I've been contemplating is a "hunt" or "roundup" skill that gives intentionally harder encounters, still using the enemies fought in the area,  that spawn instantly or in series for the area, but xp bonusses/item drops if you finish them.


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I kinda like the way Chrono Cross and Brave Fencer Musashi handled it really. In those games the player had a cap on what stats you could gain that went up as you progressed in the story. I think you still gain 'experience' even if you don't gain any stats, so when you reach the next cap level you can instantly gain the stats you earned.


You know, thinking about it, I may actually do something like that in my game... That's kind of how I handle stats already, but maybe having a overall level cap that goes up the more you explore would be a good idea. I already calculate a dungeon floor's level to do some level scaling of enemies (each dungeon has a base level and a per floor bonus), so I could make it so when you complete a dungeon floor your level cap can go up depending on that floor's level... The more higher level dungeons the player explores and the deeper they get, the bigger their level cap is. You can go back and redo previous dungeons to level up a bit more, but it won't make the cap go up. That sounds like a nice compromise. 



Edited by Kayzee

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Weirdly enough this sounds like the FF XIII system. For all the faults the game had, it prevented overgrinding. You could accumulate xp(CP) but you couldn't spend it until you had passed the act/boss.


But I remain steadfast, if the player wants to overlevel, go ahead. 

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Hehe, it's your game of course. Though I should say I don't think overleveling is really the problem for me. I am more interested in discouraging the kind of mindless repetition grinding often involves. I am making a roguelike, so I can effectively make a dungeon as deep as I want. I want to encourage the player to go deeper and explore more places, so I think it makes sense that they have a cap based on how far they have gotten. Of course randomized dungeons do get a bit repetitive after a while too, but I find it more interesting. You have different design goals of course and are making a different type of game. Even so, I still think in principle that if a player ever thinks they need to stop and do any one basic thing over and over for some reason, then that means your game hasn't given them enough reason not to. Not that forcing them to move on is necessarily the answer either, maybe it means you just need a few more side areas. I just mean, I doubt many people actually like to mindlessly grind. We do it so we can get something out of it. If there was a less boring way to get that something, isn't that better? :3

Edited by Kayzee

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I try to balance my game so that if you just finish the dungeon you will be able to take the boss, if you know what you are doing. Additional grinding is there to move the difficulty needle just a bit in your favor. As i said, I want the grinding to be convenient but optional. I do have quite steep xp curves. You can overlevel by a bit, but not by much. Once the enemies are 2-3 levels beneath you they stop being worth anything. Grinding for gear is also quite useless, as each piece of gear is at best a sidegrade, not an upgrade. The ice sword makes your attacks deal ice damage, but not necessarily more damage.(For this game, where I want to prioritize character strength above gear strength).


If I built it right, the player should always be able to blaze new content. Reached level 13 ? great, wanna finish the last 10-13 dungeon , or attempt the first 13-16 dungeon ?



Then again , sometimes you need to disengage and just kill some enemies, and I want that to be worth something.



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Hehe, I get ya. It's kind of a tricky thing to think about in any case. I just think a player who takes the time to explore and do everything they can should have an easier time then one that just grinds away mindlessly.

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