The Grind

Has this ever happened to you?

Underleveled

If so, then you know the feeling that comes from realizing your Pokémon are horribly outclassed and you have to go back to the last area to grind for the next several hours. Ugh.

For a definition, a grind is when you take a lots of time to train levels. We all hate the grind, but for some reason games that involve a lot of grinding can do pretty well. One of the biggest examples is the MMORPG Runescape which is virtually nothing but a grind, but last I checked it seemed to be on its feet fairly well.

Of course, not all RPG’s have this grind. Skyrim, for example, with enemies that level with you, nullifies any benefits of grinding other than the ability to do more awesome stuff. Even the new generation of Pokémon introduced a new and sparkly exp share which instead of splitting the experience between Pokémon with it, anything that participates in the battle gets full xp, and everything else gets half xp. Because of this, with very little grind, all of my Pokémon were 10 levels above the 8th gym leaders by the time I got to him.

However, the point still stands that I went and pre-ordered Y version fully expecting a grind. Why was I so willing to spend my time doing the same thing over and over again?

The answer is the possible reward. Every time your Pokémon goes up a level, it gets those stars around it and you get to see how its stats increase. Every now and then it learns a new move, and sometimes even evolves. It’s looking forwards to these moments, these goals, which can keep a player grinding to get them.

My fellow Pokémaniacs will understand that one of the biggest grinds actually came from a mechanic called EV (Effort Value, not to be confused with Eevee) training. For those of you who don’t know, each of the six stats has an EV that reflects how high above the base case it will be. EV’s are independent of levels, so you could get a Pokémon to max EV’s before it even hits level 6, at which point it proceeds to school every other level 6. However, any Pokémon can only have 512 EV’s in total and 254 in any stat. The main way to get EV’s is just to battle, but each Pokémon you knock out gives different EV’s (eg. Fast Pokémon give you speed EV’s). The problem, however, is that you might come across something that gives your Alakazam attack EV’s, and if your Alakazam uses physical attack EV’s it’s doing something wrong. Thus, if you want to optimize your training, you have to train your EV’s before your levels or you’ll get points that only clog your total. And at a rate of roughly 2-4 EV’s per encounter, it becomes a grind.

X and Y solved this problem with super training, a minigame that lets you train your EV’s in a very specific, enjoyable, and much less grindy way. I did this to train my Yveltal, and it was so much less boring than fighting a million Litwicks.

So some games can benefit by reducing the grind, but in any RPG it’s still there. The grind is what keeps people playing long after they’ve gone through all the real content for the simple goal of improving their numbers.

There is a definite balance to walk here; we want our games to have enough grind to keep people playing, but not too much so that they get bored. One solution is to make it feel like less of a grind. Like with super training, we can make training a minigame. Other ways would be to make the training visually appealing, though this could wear on the player quickly if all they want is to level up.

Overall, an RPG designer really needs to keep in mind how much grind they put into the game and what they can do to make it not feel like a grind. Grinding is really a dirty trick to keep players occupied while you scramble for new content, but MMORPG’s wouldn’t work without it. For the idea of a living story, sometimes a player may not want to do all the quests the GM has in mind, and so they need an alternative. Grinding, I think, would be a good fallback, but we have to make sure that it rarely becomes the only option.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The Grind

  1. As you implied in the article, “grind” is generally synonymous with “filler content”. However, the idea that RPGs must have some sort of a grind to stretch out the content is probably unhealthy for game development.

    The “Grind” comes when you have boring, repetitive activities that you are willing to put up with because it is the only way to reach your goal. I’d hope that we can eliminate grind completely. It interrupts the flow of a good narrative with meaningless busywork. Unless it can be incorporated into the story itself (sparring with a party member to train, etc…), it really needs to go. There should be other ways of keeping people engaged, without having to resort to grind.

    For example, do RPGs really need to be 500 hours long? What about smaller scale games that only take 20-hours or so, and due to the tight story structure there is no need for grind? In a pen-and-paper RPG there is (ideally) no “grind”, but the character progress happens as a part of the larger story.

  2. Some games really rely on grinding. This is not so much padding as an actual feature of the game. Pokemon, Disgaea, and a surprising amount of JRPGs are centered around grinding. Leveling is a core feature of the game play and comes with its own fulfillment in better stats, new powers and new abilities being unlocked.

    Tabletop RPGs, because they are run by a person, can adjust all aspects of the game to avoid grind or the need to level. I don’t even use XP when I run traditional RPGs, instead leveling the party when it seems thematically proper.

    Even something like Elder Scrolls V has problems with the scaling bad guys, only some of them scale. In my personal experience, myself and many friends screw around on side quests and end up chewing through levels. Only some baddies scale. What results is usually breezing through dungeons 1-2 hitting most enemies and then (because I’m so used to being OP) being on the ropes during the dungeon boss battle who is scaled to my level. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the meat of dungeon delving a little anticlimactic, no enemies or traps will come close to killing you.

    Perhaps the middle ground would be an RPG that had a minimum level to the entry of the next area. Beat the previous scene at lvl 47, but the baddies in the next area are minimum lvl 50? No problem, Bonus reward for clearing the scene you start at lvl 49 by getting an auto XP bump. Grind if you want but not necessary to move on to the next area.

  3. I’ll just say this up front: the grind is one of my major beefs with the RPG genre. Leveling is an important feature of many RPGs. However, leveling does not automatically require a grind. As Machination said, the grind involves boring, repetitive activities. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. In my opinion, the grind is either the result of a lack of effort on the part of the game designers or a cheap trick to extend the life of the game. Either way, it’s an attempt to make more money for less work.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of getting that next level, but I don’t think you should have to put your brain on pause and plod through the wasteland of monotony to do it. Any place where there’s a grind represents a weak point in the game design that should be tightened up before release.

    Okay, now that I’ve had my rant, the question that remains is what to do to eliminate the grind from our games. Redraggedfiend mentioned that in pen-and-paper RPGs you can just skip XP altogether and level the party when it fits the situation. I don’t see why this couldn’t work for video games, too. Who says you have to level as a result of gaining XP from fighting bad guys? Shouldn’t the fact that they got to a certain point in the game be enough to level up—without having to go and fight a bunch of extra bad guys on the side?

    • Especially with this whole “GM” thing that we’ve been tossing around, either a human or an AI GM that watches over your story as you go. If we had one of those, you could easily level a character whenever it fits the story best.

      Also, there are a few other alternate forms of progression we could explore. Particularly ones that are intrinsic rather than a simple number. Progression through a space via exploration (as seen in Guild Wars with “hearts”) can also be a compelling and satisfying type of “leveling”.

      Wildstar is making an entire “Explorer” path of progression. Perhaps our brainstorm might include alternate paths which don’t require “Kill X rats” to spice up the progression trail.

  4. Pingback: Immersion vs. Addiction | Mysterious Artifact

  5. I have always loved JRPGs and never really minded Grinding…until recently when I have found myself simply without enough time to Grind and therefore not fully be able to enjoy a game at a rate of progression I would normally expect…

    I could imagine a game without levelling…training for some skills/attributes could be found in game…equipment increases would also slightly increase prowess through the game. Unlocking skills from missions and or exploration and further training could be used to supplement the aforementioned and should we not mention the players own SKILL? Which should theoretically also increase during play. Did you ever play WIPEOUT? At later levels the craft [and game…] was so fast It became amazing that it was even possible to complete tracks that had previously been almost impossible at lower velocities…

    That AI GM is here to stay mew thinks…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s