24 March 2013

Real Choices

Why are monsters always just an obstacle to be overcome? Why do we always assume we have to "let" the players win?

I understand that it's difficult finding a balance between possible and impossible, and you have to temper your designs with the fact that you are still writing a game and, like any game, it needs to be entertaining or else people will not want to play it.

But that doesn't mean you have to let people win.

Here's a good example. The Griffin in the picture above is from Dragon's Dogma, a very good action adventure game. Sometimes you'll be walking to wherever it is that you like to go, and it'll swoop down and kick the shit out of you. I mean, seriously, beat you into a grimy pulp. The thing is huge, it has three life bars, and it can fly. It swoops around and pounds you into the ground, it thrashes like a maniac, and if you start to win anyways, it flies away. If you try and hang on to it while it flies away, it'll shake you off and you'll drop a hundred feet to your death.

It's also one of the coolest things so far in the game. Why?

Because it makes the world feel more real. Not every threat can be taken out by three random people  in a field. Unlike some other threats (bandits, goblins) which exist because nobody really cares, the Griffin is a serious threat that still exists because it's smart and tough. It's a part of the world that remains dangerous in a very real way.

So the next time you tone down, say, a band of Ogres because "the players couldn't possibly kill them," stop right there. Let them be a threat to cities, and let them be big, aggressive, and dangerous. Let it happen that if the players stumble on to them while they're unprepared, they get messed up and maybe die, because that says a lot about your world. It says "you are not the center of this world."

It says: "The encounters are not scaled to you. The world does not care what level you are, or if you forgot to bring rope or you're at half health. You should know better, and if you don't, you will next time."

It assumes that you're capable of making decisions, especially about whether you should run or stand and goddamn it, I want more of that in the games that I play.

(I'd been meaning to write up all the stuff I said I'd write, but Dragon's Dogma went on sale and you know how that goes. It's so very good. I can't stop playing it.)

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