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Sneftel

Replay as extended play

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Games that have an important story component, such as adventures and most RPGs, often increase their replayability value with multilinear storylines: choices leading to divergent paths through the story, side-quests, random storyline variations. Yet for the most part, the game coyly treats each new run-through as the character's AND the player's first. At the very most, games will simply unlock new content (side-quests, alternate endings, higher difficulty factors). Is this the best way to handle the situation? Are there things we can do to integrate replaying into a maximally satisfying game experience as a whole, as opposed to treating replay as a sequence of disconnected experiences?

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Something I've noticed on several occasions (though it only applies to certain game styles) is the unlocking of the untrodden paths post-completion. For example, at 5 different junctures in gameplay, you chose to take side A as opposed to B, or mission 12 over mission 14 (because it paid more).

Armored Core for example, always let you take the missions you missed out on once you reached the "end point." I believe they even acknowledged your completion, but left them around as "someone's still looking for this to be completed, want to make some extra cash?" kind of stuff.

So that's one option, but as you can see, it's only really viable if you work off a list of possible levels for the player.

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The "you're new, so we need to introduce you to the game piece by piece" is also an important part of game design. Introducing a huge difficulty/understanding curve into the game will turn off most players before they finish it once.

Personally I think a good option is making the first completition of the game unlock "hard mode". Hard mode is the same as the original game, with various paths, submissions, collectable items and secrets, however it increases the difficulty (by adding more enemies or changing player or enemy stats or taking away how many lives a player gets) and removes the tutorial elements, perhaps evening speeding up how quickly the player can begin using advanced play mechanics.

An example of how this might be done is say 1 or 2 hours into the normal game you are introduced to the soul stealing sword, a major game mechanic used for the rest of the 40 hour adventure. The first time you play you only get to use it after you have learned the other game mechanics and have gone through the story setting it up. However the second time through (hard mode) you already understand the mechanics and know the sword is coming - so the player will want to start using that core game mechanic sooner. This could be done by having a typical NPC blocked path near the beginning of the game. On the first play through, the NPC blocks your path, saying "There are dangerous monsters down this path, someone like you shouldn't go there". On hard mode however the NPC would tell you that you are obviously a brave adventurer, and lets you pass. This would give you a shortcut (filled with some tough, but beatable by a veteran, enemies) to the soul stealing sword.

Similiar shortcuts (with different forms of "magic doors", it doesn't have to be an unmovable NPC with some pre-canned lines) could exist throughout the game to make hardmode provide an additional linear story path - the player already knows the normal story line, so hardmode gives them the oppertunity to find a "better" linear path/story line by finding all the secret shortcuts, leading up to one or more special endings (find all the shortcuts and you get the best ending).

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Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
Yet for the most part, the game coyly treats each new run-through as the character's AND the player's first.


EDIT: Added bold topic sections

Apart from disabling the tutorial screens, what would you have it do?

This is a very good question that I've heard discussed on and off for over a decade. But I've never seen any good answers.



In-game AI training
One option I've seen considered is for the AI re-learn from the previous game, forcing you to come up with new tactics since the computer learned your old ones.

Aside from a development difficulty of this, it gets back into the classic problem of your opponent AI doing in-game compensations:
* Slash-and-burn players have no problem beating the easy boss.
* Casual players won't have developed the reflex reactions to fight the boss.
* Explorers who traverse the entire world to find every possible secret will face a nearly impossible boss.

Repeat this for the second time through, and it makes the bad situation worse.

Preserve some of the old player's status
If instead you keep equipment and player attributes, you run in to some of the difficulty with games where players could import maxed-out characters. A few years back in Sacred, I played through two difficulty levels. Since I'm an explorer-type player, my over-developed ice mage could enter any of the difficulty levels and finish the game from the beginning in a few real-time hours.

Random mission choice, random level creation
Many games use the "random mission selection" and "random maze" solution, where you end up having a few different variables in the game, but the content is basically unchanged. Testing these games is prohibitive as the worlds grow immense. It was easy enough for nethack, but most modern games don't deal with that type of worlds.


Paths that speed up, become available, or become unavailable on replay
Disabling or enabling certain paths based on the replay state is also a common idea, but it has it's drawbacks in that it doesn't really add much to the game. Sure, you can do the same things a little earlier or later, but you're still doing the same thing.


Implement additional seperate story lines for each replay
Although a good solution, the human factor currently makes this one almost impossible. If you changed the plot and story line, the level designers and story writers would have an even more difficult time. This gives the option of retelling a different story. It isn't an easy job, but I do think that is one of the better options.


Peer-altered worlds, dynamic worlds, multiplayer worlds
Replaying with friends can help the replay boredom. Online content has its drawbacks, although it is part of the draw of the MMO's right now.


l33t vs. n00b
For multiplayer competition games, you get the added difficulty of the experienced player knowing all the controls, all the weaknesses, and being more player-experienced than the novice. Anybody who mastered a game then played head-to-head against a novice knows the problem with that.



But it's been a while since I've seen this topic rehashed. Perhaps your thread will bring some new ideas out.

frob.

[Edited by - frob on December 2, 2005 2:42:59 PM]

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Is this the best way to handle the situation?

My first major experience with "replayability" was Super Mario Bros. on the NES 8-bit system. I defeated Bowser on the 8th level, and was returned to level 1. Except the enemy monsters were replaced with Buzzy Beetle. This made the game harder, but it didn't make game-levels more satisfying to complete.

In that same respect, reusing the majority of a game's content doesn't really make a game interesting to me. (Keep in mind, I separate "game-content reuse" and "unlock your freedom after game completion, so you can travel wherever you like"). What I like to see is the "unlock freedom" system, as well as the ability to clean up quests after finishing the main goals in the game. But having the player run through the same digs with the difficulty jacked up simply seems to be a cop-out in the design department. In this respect, it makes the game less of a game, and more of a puzzle/toy.

Are there things we can do to integrate replaying into a maximally satisfying game experience as a whole, as opposed to treating replay as a sequence of disconnected experiences?

In a sandbox game where a finite number of quests lead up to a major conflict-resolution, perhaps the number of side-quests or unimportant events could be increased to give the game a more "living breathing" atmosphere. This in itself would invite the player to explore every inch of the game. Ultima VII is a good example of this (though I can't recall if, after destroying the black gate, the game puts you in a position where you can continue playing).

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Quote:
Original post by Michalson
Personally I think a good option is making the first completition of the game unlock "hard mode". Hard mode is the same as the original game, with various paths, submissions, collectable items and secrets, however it increases the difficulty (by adding more enemies or changing player or enemy stats or taking away how many lives a player gets) and removes the tutorial elements, perhaps evening speeding up how quickly the player can begin using advanced play mechanics.

Definitely seems like a good idea, in terms of intelligently managing hand-holding. I know I've gotten quite annoyed with games where I still need to sit through a long cutscene or perform a tedious "learn to play" quest the third time I'm playing through a game. I'm a pro by then, and I deserve to be treated like one.

Quote:
Similiar shortcuts (with different forms of "magic doors", it doesn't have to be an unmovable NPC with some pre-canned lines) could exist throughout the game to make hardmode provide an additional linear story path - the player already knows the normal story line, so hardmode gives them the oppertunity to find a "better" linear path/story line by finding all the secret shortcuts, leading up to one or more special endings (find all the shortcuts and you get the best ending).

Now, see, this is what I'm really getting at. Many of the most highly acclaimed "story" games (Grim Fandango, The Longest Journey, Syberia) leave you with a very carefully orchestrated impression at the end. The rest of the game is, to some extent, in service of this final impression. It seems as though a clever game designer who expected players to play through the game multiple times might take steps to elaborate or alter the impression players are left with the second time, if for no other reason than that the lack of novelty would otherwise make the game less affecting the second time through.

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I am a firm believer that adding multiple storylines, side quests, and other things that claim to make the game "replayable" don't work. They make the game deeper the first time, that's true, but after that they aren't going to make a person sit down and play it again.

To make your game replayable, you have to have the game be intrinsically fun to play. Then all of the multiple paths just add to this. I will sit and play a linear game like Ikaruga that is only 25 minutes long, and then play through it again. There is no difference the second time, but it is so fun that it doesn't matter. Jet Set Radio, Katamari Damashii, Half Life, Super Mario World, Grand Theft Auto... these are all games that were fun in their own right, without having to rely on the player finding new content the second time around.

I'm not saying that designers shouldn't try for multiple storylines and such, but that to rely on them for replay value is missing the bigger picture.

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Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
Now, see, this is what I'm really getting at. Many of the most highly acclaimed "story" games (Grim Fandango, The Longest Journey, Syberia) leave you with a very carefully orchestrated impression at the end. The rest of the game is, to some extent, in service of this final impression. It seems as though a clever game designer who expected players to play through the game multiple times might take steps to elaborate or alter the impression players are left with the second time, if for no other reason than that the lack of novelty would otherwise make the game less affecting the second time through.


The different endings in Crono Trigger had this to a degree - depending on when/how you fought Larvos (the final boss), about 3 choices, and the completion status of a few side quests, you would get a different ending. The endings often hinted at things you didn't complete - for instance if you beat Larvos before finishing off the whole dinosaur plotline in 10,000BC, the ending would show everyone as lizard people (as humans/mammals lost the conflict). The status of many characters in the ending credits/cutscene also changed depending on if/how you completed tasks related to them.

On the subject of tutorials/plot events [cutscenes], I think attention does need to be payed to how they are presented. If you've played the game before, you probably don't want to play through the same tutorials about how to use your sword, and you might want to skip a big lecture (plot event). For example if anyone has played any Pokemon game on the GameBoy[Color/Advance], it almost always starts with a long lecture by someone about the game world - even the first time through this can be a A button mashing fest as players try and scroll the speech text as fast as possible.

Perhaps the worst example I can think of is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for GBA. I actually timed it once - the unskippable opening story + tutorial (a snowball fight that has no bearing on the game, and a later battle of little consequence) take about 30 minutes to get through. That means from the point you choose to start a new game you are stuck on rails for the first 30 minutes, you can't even save your game (meaning the first time you plug in the game you better have 30 minutes free).

There are two elements to solve this. First, make all tutorials/gameplay mechanic introductions (what one might call the late game tutorials) inconsequential (you don't gain or lose anything by not playing them) and skippable. Making them skippable is as easy as making an NPC (normally the one giving the tutorial) ask the player "do you want me to tell you how to X" or "have you done this before".

Second, make story elements (like big conversations and cutscenes) skippable. Not just button mashing through all the dialog boxes, but actually being able to press an escape button that fades the scene out, then fades in as the cutscene/conversation is wrapping up (Homeworld 2 did this), with everything in place as if you had watched the whole thing (so if you where given a sword as part of the conversation, it would now be in your inventory without listening to the grandmaster ramble for 10 minutes).

In both cases it should be possible to do whether it is your 1st play or your 100th. You can avoid first time players missing out by making the take the tutorial option the default selection (and if possible, allow the player to come back and ask again - this is a good practice anyway, as it allows players who didn't understand it the first time replay it), and when skipping cutscenes/long conversations, you can put up a confirmation, which if confirmed fades to black and shows a one screen summary of all important information (you gained this item, this party member is leaving for now, you gained a new party member, your objective is to go to the castle), waits for a keypress, then fades back into the finished cutscene/conversation.

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The best reason for replaying a game I've seen is in games like nwn or kotor where you have different outcomes for the quests, good or evil for the most part. nwn is the best example really because of the number of class specific quests in it. Games like GTA have incentives for replay or a sort in form of psuedo quests like collecting all the stars or coins etc to unlock extras. I suppose strictly speaking some arent replay features. But the effect is the same. I don't consider a harder difficulty a reason to play a game again. I always feel I'm missing something with games like that, and if I do do it, I'm left with a feeling of oh, was that it?

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One thing that I think might help would be randomly generated content. With strategy games such as Civilization or Master of Orion I can replay those games indefinitely, because the "game board" for every game is different. This also has the advantage that the player can tweak the settings for what kind of game they want, including modifying the difficulty settings.

My game design philosophy, which I am slowly working towards with my games, is to try and introduce as much randomly generated content into every type of game. Theoretically I think this could be added to every sort of genre, although the difficulty is greatly increased for things like adventure games [grin].

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