Tfarcraw Fo Dlrow

A common problem in game design is that of the difficulty curve. Ideally, the game gets harder as it progresses so that it keeps providing a challenge to the player. However, this is often not the case; as you progress through the game, you unlock more powers/abilities/weapons/etc., making the endgame comparatively trivial. Yahtzee, after considering this problem, came up with an interesting solution.

  1. As long as you can progress through that game and somehow incorporate grinding, it could absolutely work for RPGs. Now that I think of it, I’m surprised that someone hasn’t realized this as a flash/web game.

  2. I’d love to see some good experiments with this sort of idea, yeah. Yahtzee’s conception of a game in which you slowly shed abilities by choice is interesting and could totally work.

    Potent gaming moments I thought of when reading his piece:

    1. Bioshock 1 endgame, with the collecting and donning of the various bits of the suit. It’s not perfectly analogous, but there was that strong sense that here, late in the game, you were suddenly contemplating having to change what you thought of yourself as in the game and to some extent how you play. I thought that was very effective at the time.

    2. The old Playstation dueler Bushido Blade, which remains one of my favorite games in the whole world for specifically how spartan and deadly it was. In BB you would face off with an opponent, each of you playing with the avatar and weapon of your choice, all in a sort of understated historical Japanese context. And fights could be really, really fast because one good blow from the opponent’s katana and you were just as dead as you’d expect someone with a katana stuck through them to be.

    But, so, deadliness aside, you could also be injured in the game by a non-fatal blow, and that injury stuck until the fight was over. You could lose the use of an arm, or of a leg, or both. And so a fight could come down to you desperately trying to fend off an able opponent from on one knee, trying to wield a two-handed sword with only one arm. And that sense of having been reduced in your basic functional abilities but still being very much in the game was wonderful. Pulling out a win was an exultant moment, to manage to come back from such an explicitly disadvantaged position.

    BB also had a “challenge” type mode where you had to fend off an unending river of ninja goons who would come at you one at a time. And while losing a leg in a one-off duel with a friend was a setback, losing a leg when trying to outlast an infinity of ninjas was something else entirely. You had to learn to fight in a whole different way, use the limited lunges of a one-legged fighter to your advantage. God I loved that game.

    So. Yes. People need to explore this space. Lots of games have done a nice job of scaling up puzzle difficulty or complexity in lockstep with an increased variety of abilities (or increased player knowledge of valid tactics that the game has taught), but it’d be great to see it taken as a process of stripping down, of removing options, of simplifying a complex system to lay bare the core mechanics and force the player to really understand how the world in which they’re playing works.

  3. Very interesting idea. I think keeping players feeling like they’re progressing as they’re getting less powerful would be a challenge. He does mention this in the article but I don’t think he reaches a satisfactory conclusion.

  4. This ties in that little bit of reality that I really wish was a part of games. Think about it, you’re fighting some huge dragon that spews fire at you. Taking “damage” just seems silly at that point. Now, if you became horribly burned and were reduced to using some very limited attacks, you’d have to play the game a lot differently. I think it would encourage more creative thinking and teamwork to pull off. The focus wouldn’t be so much about what combination of stats, gear and buttons makes the biggest numbers.

    It’s also a bit like aging. The game starts you out at your prime, but as time goes on, you slowly lose your edge. You have to stop relying on your physical prowess and instead start relying on your mental agility and creativity. But, what happens when your mental faculties start to fail? You forget more and more, maybe even start hallucinating? I bet that’s where it could get really interesting.

    Bushido Blade sounds like an interesting and challenging game. We need more of that!

  5. Or, if you remember the old After Dark game Lunatic Fringe, which was an Asteroids-type shooter with a damage track. You’d take a few hits and then you’d have to survive the game (until you get a repair power-up, which got less common as the game progressed) while your gun shoots erratically, your spaceship lists to the left and your engines choke.

  6. Simply not having invulnerable to lasting harm hero types (ala Dominion X and (apparently) Bushido Blade) goes a long way towards this sort of thing.

    The FPS way (and, I think Demon’s Soul’s way) of getting around this is only allowing you a subset of all possible weapons/powers at any given point. Demon’s Souls still has you become strictly more powerful, but Halo allows 2 weapons and some grenades, vs. Quake1 where I’m pretty sure I had Springfield Armory 2049 stuffed in my bag of holding.

    All that said: as soon as persistent character damage exists in a mmorpg, everyone not insane quits, and the playerbase starts hating each other for being stupid. I know this because I played Everquest, where almost-permanent character damage (permanently lost xp) existed, and boy howdy were we a bunch of judgemental judgies.

    That said, we were a lot more competent than mmorpg players these days. Quick! Finish this WoW boss exactly as the Blizzard devs envisioned, and NO OTHER WAY!

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