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Wavinator

When "All's Well" Isn't

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Wavinator    2017
Usually when a player attains complete mastery over the forces and fortunes a game can subject him/her to, it's a very bad thing. Even if it's not officially game over, becoming so powerful that nothing can offer a challenge or so stable that no event is beyond control is typically a straight ticket to boredom. The only exception I've ever seen is based either on human competition or a time limit. The former offers the possibility that, with a wide enough player base, someone will always arise to offer a challenge. The latter is often built around fragility, challenging players to simply keep some sort of volatility or randomness under control (e.g., Tower Defense or managing speed and jumps in Canabalt). Because this last is often stressful, though, it can only scale so much before players become exhausted. Alternatives like simulation either need to offer a crushing level of complexity to constantly challenge or sidestep the problem entirely because they're basically toys. Are there any other mechanics / ideas that actually work with stability but allow a game to remain a game? What, for example, would make it okay to be a stable empire; or the greatest warrior in the world; or the richest company? The only thing I've been able to come up with is a mechanic like growth paired with forced changes in forms of gameplay. Maybe it's possible, for instance, to be the greatest military empire, but you have to sacrifice economics or research and so always risk falling behind; or maybe you can resist all forms of fire but never at the same time all forms of ice and lightning. Or maybe forced waves of fragility / instability (like being cursed or experiencing an economy ruining event) cause regression and the need for releveling / regrowth. Thoughts?

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TyrianFin    122
Late game challenges are hard to create.
Player knows perfectly the rules of game,
and has optimized his resources to make him self immortal.

So how to create challenge?
Change rules or analyse player and create perfect nemesis?

case 1. (Changes of rules)
Player owns 10.0 ^ 10 credits, simply change money to some other form,
and player loses all his money.
(revolution in nation and nations old currency loses it`s value)

Player has best guns, simply introduce new tech to game, witch modifyes
old swords to light sabres capable of creating constant barrier field that stops
bullets in midair. (after this tech, next new tech is laser rifles, after that, dimension twisting swords, after that disruptor guns, after that
temporal twisting swords, etc... idea is that sword and gun swap place as best
weapon)

Player loses his permanent upgrade(s) (attributes/skills/perks/stats/level).
Prayers body is mortaly wouded, and his counsesnes is tranferred to new body.
The new body forses new play style to player (cybortg body vs. flesh&blood).

case 2. (Summon perfect nemesis)
Game keeps track of witch ememies can do most harm to player, and crossbreads
and mutates them to create more powerful enemies.

Or game makes some background simulations with AI clone of player, and tries
to find best nemesis.

/Tyrian

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MeshGearFox    158
Build in a decay factor. That is, something that will kill the player if they're ever in a safe state unless they're actively going after some sort of progress.

A roguelike's biggest example would be food. You could, theoretically, grind endlessly in Nethack on a relatively safe level till you're too powerful to ever really die, except you can't ACTUALLY do that because you'd starve.

Another example is that I would've loved to have seen some minor life-sim elements in... I don't know, the TES games. Maybe force the player to need to eat every so often or pay taxes based on their level/income. I don't think that would've fixed some other glaring design issues and it could've gotten annoying real easy, but whatever.

Quote:
What, for example, would make it okay to be a stable empire; or the greatest warrior in the world; or the richest company?


A shift in what you're doing. Let's go with the empire example. At the start of the game, you're playing as a small country that's not, by any means, a world power. Once you work up to the world power state, you could theoretically run up the clock or take on anyone and win without much effort -- except now you have to worry about all these internal concerns you never had to worry about before, so if you try to expand indefinitely you lose stability and start to crumble because you're neglecting internal policy.

Hardly any 4x games actually do that, mind, which is why the genre sort of bugs me in its current state. Paradox is the only company that's really consistently put out SimEmpire type games, and they have a big issue with producing buggy code.

Alternatively you could ALWAYS focus on internal affairs and non-competition.

2x Alternatively 2x just find the point where the game gets too easy from the player getting too powerful and cut it off an hour before that.

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Cpt Mothballs    100
Well I think if a game has predetermined goals for the player and the player, does in fact, complete those goals and the game continues, that the rest of the game should become their sandbox.

However, if the goal is to 'become the best fighter' (example), a simple challenge based system would suffice. Where other players and super-powered NPCs can come and challenge you to get to the top.
Think Afro Samurai, with the headbands. Number 2 can challenge Number 1, etc.

This way, achieving and then holding the title is much harder.

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Robin S    153
Cpt Mothballs mentioned sandboxes. It seems to me that if a player sets their own goals, then it's never "game over" - you mentioned levels which imposed a time limit, which reminds me of people who try to finish platformers or shooters in the minimum time, or play through an RPG without level grinding or with the minimum number of kills, and so on... Player-created content can add to this. For example, I used to play the city-building game Caesar 3. There were a couple of dozen campaign levels and a similar number of sandbox-like scenarios, but the player community really revolved (and still does) around self-imposed challenges and player-created maps. For example, there was a limit on the number of building and character sprites that the game could display, so players tried to see how large a population they could sustain, or how many of the top-level houses, within those restrictions. Other obstacles were intentionally placed by the maps' creators, and included limiting the resources that could be produced or imported, or the taxes that could be raised. Testing your skills to try to build "the best" city according to your own criteria - the game itself provided several separate ratings - within the restrictions imposed by the level you'd chosen to play, could be a lot of fun even though it was a single-player game.

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Some games have little to offer after the player has mastered them. That is completely fine, not a "very bad thing". The designer generally should have the good sense to throw in end credits at that point, and the player should find another game.

If a game is to stay interesting, it has to have enough complexity, either strategic (Go), action (Donpachi) or a mix of both (Starcraft). You can always do better at these games. "Time limits" and "human competition" don't describe the issue. The basic options seem to be learning to beat progressively better opponents (who may also be AIs not humans), reaching higher performance in a way defined by the game designer (generally referred to as "scoring"), reaching higher performance in a measurement of your choosing (e.g. speedrunning), or playing for completion while handicapping yourself with constraints such as "no saving the game".

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XandX2005    127
If for some reason you reach a block that limits you from making the game more difficult or keeping the player interested, you could always include a "mission editor" of sorts.

With an editor, you could have a online community creating new levels for others' and in return giving the players more replay value and you more content to offer new players for free.

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Sammie22    102
The player's power is a result of other influences. For example:

- Player is forced to make a sacrifice. Perhaps they must give up something which is part of their 'power' that they gained from an outside source, earlier in the game, in order to accomplish a goal, or protect another goal. Now they must sacrifice that power to accomplish a different goal.

- Those / that which made the player powerful, turn against the player. Maybe due to perceived corruption of that power or abuse of it, weakining the player as a result.

Or, as mentioned above, the landscape of the game changes drastically, reducing the power of the player. IMO, best done mid-game with good story-telling and the player has time to regain power before endgame.

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Sneftel    1788
In Half-Life 2, the last level of the game abruptly becomes very, very easy. Your gravity gun is upgraded, giving it the ability to fling dudes at other dudes. It's difficult to describe or defend how primal this experience is. Even though it's easy, it isn't boring, because it's cathartic. A lot of other games have similar "look how badass you've become" segments. Sands of Time, for instance, strips away the dagger of time near the end, forcing you to do your acrobatics without a net; the added danger is exhilirating, but so is the realization of how good you, the player, have gotten at doing things right the first time, even with a net. Call of Duty 4's coda (after the credits) has you mowing down terrorists with surprisingly little concern for your own well-being. So I think in a game's last act, complete mastery of this sort is actually a good thing.

In contrast, the last third of KOTOR 2, for me, consisted of: walk into a room with about twenty sith whatevers, stasis field everyone (light side FTW!), force lighting everyone a few times (charisma FTW!), and watch them die in eerie unison. And the last third of Oblivion consisted of walking up to a dude and whacking him a few times with an enchanted glass claymore (!?) and then he dies. These game-breaking mechanics just go on too long. But if it were only the last battle or two? Sure!

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Diodor    517
Games end. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the player wins. Nothing wrong with that either. Rather than finding ways to deny the player complete dominance during the end game, one can just as well make the game an imbalanced system wherein once the tide turns and victory moves beyond reasonable doubt the player's power just keeps growing and growing faster and faster so the "official" end comes very soon afterwards. A satisfying triumph march rather than joyless work mopping up what's left of the opposition.

I'm thinking Zed where controlling two thirds of the map gives twice as much weapons production as the enemy and controlling four fifths of the map gives maybe 10-15 times more production.

I'm thinking some older god-game whose name I forget in which after the player's forces become large enough the Armageddon option becomes available: a swift game resolution that forces instant combat between the factions, with the initiating side at a disadvantage. (the game was about castle building and upgrading and map modelling both to make it more amenable to friendly buildings and to damage enemy ones - curious what it was)

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SimonForsman    7642
Quote:
Original post by Diodor
Games end. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the player wins. Nothing wrong with that either. Rather than finding ways to deny the player complete dominance during the end game, one can just as well make the game an imbalanced system wherein once the tide turns and victory moves beyond reasonable doubt the player's power just keeps growing and growing faster and faster so the "official" end comes very soon afterwards. A satisfying triumph march rather than joyless work mopping up what's left of the opposition.

I'm thinking Zed where controlling two thirds of the map gives twice as much weapons production as the enemy and controlling four fifths of the map gives maybe 10-15 times more production.

I'm thinking some older god-game whose name I forget in which after the player's forces become large enough the Armageddon option becomes available: a swift game resolution that forces instant combat between the factions, with the initiating side at a disadvantage. (the game was about castle building and upgrading and map modelling both to make it more amenable to friendly buildings and to damage enemy ones - curious what it was)


The god game would be populous.

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GiantGames    100
Quote:
Original post by MeshGearFox
Solution Idea 2:

Don't let the player get more powerful than everything else in the game in the first place.


This. You're designing the game. If players are too powerful late-game, the onus lies on you to balance the early-game.

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MrFox    140
I always liked the way the Zelda games worked. As you moved onward and upward you gained a new tool to deal with the current set of problems, adding to the tools you had already collected en-route (which for the most part were still useful in the new area).

The area of the game where the new tool was key was large enough that you had a chance to get the hang of the tool before moving onto the next section, but small enough that you didn't become too good, or for that matter, too bored with the current tool.

Essentially each section/tool allowed you to grow as a player, whilst at the same time having elements that were new, keeping your "Uber-ness" as well as your boredom in check. A strong mix.

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fearghaill    244
Quote:
Original post by MeshGearFox
Build in a decay factor. That is, something that will kill the player if they're ever in a safe state unless they're actively going after some sort of progress.


Another variation of this would be empires that need to constantly expand, as they need the spoils of conquest to pay the bills. In game terms this would be to have some form of maintenance cost that grows as the PC grows in power, and which has consequences if not met.

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Edtharan    607
When the player character becomes too powerful it is a case of Jack of all trades master of all. But what is this were'nt the case?

What if, the player starts out as a Jack of all trades, but, master of none, and then as they develop they ahve to sacrifice ability in the other aspects to gain master over a specific one. Essentially character growth and development is about specialisation rather than a flat increase in power.

As a basic example, imagine an RPG type game where the palyer starts off with 3 skills
- Weapons
- Magic
- Diplomacy

The character starts off with 30 points in each skill. At each level up the player can reassign the points between each skill, but only a maximum number of points equal to their level.

So at level 1 they could move 1 point from a skill to another skill
eg:
Weapons 29
Magic 31
Diplomacy 30

At level 2 they could move another point
Weapons 39
Magic 32
Diplomacy 29

And so forth.

This would allow players to customise their character over time, and if you use an exponetial increase in power (or certain abilities have a minimum skill score before they can be used) as the value of the skill rises, then it encourages players to specialise.

They become more powerful in their chose specialty, but at the cost of becomeing weaker in other areas. Enemies can then be created to exploit these weaknesses to provide a challenge to the player.

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Wavinator    2017
Thanks for the replies everyone.

Decay is good but I like most Edtharan's idea of a built in invulnerability. Either the player is semi-capable at everything or really good at a few things. I'd like to see this idea applied to gear / equipment loadouts. Does anyone know any games where this has been done?

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leiavoia    960
Design-wise, what you're describing is called a "negative feedback loop" (see Rules of Play, 2003 Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman). Basically, that just means finding methods to punish winners and reward losers ("Tax the rich"). Here's a few examples:

- In a social game like "settlers of catan," players often visually see who is winning. They then proceed to gang up on the leader. Note that this isn't a designed game mechanic, it's a consequence of the social nature of the game.

- Doing business with or allying with a perceived loser because he is "no threat."

- In the card game Dominion, the thing which makes you win (victory point cards) hinders your progress during the game itself. So although they are needed to win, they are bad to have! In theory, this prevents a runaway victory.

- Have bad things target winning players (random events, choice of cards, less points to spend, higher costs, less options given, less effectiveness), or have good things help out the little guys.

In contrast to adding negative feedback, you can also look to eliminate any specific positive feedback loops you may already have. If your game feels like a bad case of "the rich get richer," take away whatever mechanism that enables their richness.

Quote:
Usually when a player attains complete mastery over the forces and fortunes a game can subject him/her to, it's a very bad thing. Even if it's not officially game over, becoming so powerful that nothing can offer a challenge or so stable that no event is beyond control is typically a straight ticket to boredom.

If the game's outcome is determined at that point, the game should end.

In other words, the end condition of the game should be to attain equilibrium or dominance. Once this is done, you can count points or determine a winner or whatever.

Interestingly, if you segregate the end condition from the victory condition, you may produce a situation where end condition (achieving equilibrium) is best avoided if the same player cannot achieve the victory condition (having the most points or whatever).

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MeshGearFox    158
Quote:
- Have bad things target winning players (random events, choice of cards, less points to spend, higher costs, less options given, less effectiveness), or have good things help out the little guys.


Oh, this can be fun AND realistic in strategy games.

Crusader Kings, a 4X game from Paradox Interactive, had this fun mechanic where, as your personal holdings grew, your revolt risk and general inefficiency level grew as well, meaning you'd have to give land away to loyal vassals or your empire would... implode/explode.

The Europa Universalis games, by the same company, have this thing called a BadBoy score that basically indicates whether you're being some sort of horrible world conqueror, which causes the AI to start attacking you like crazy.

Basically, the bigger your territory gets, the more of a managerial nightmare it becomes.

SimCity's also fun this way.

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Wavinator    2017
Knew I should have played those Paradox games!

I can see negative feedback loops and decay or rising trouble being very interesting when paired with something like growth / expansion. I've always wanted to see a Civ-like game where you had to go from expansion to living in a complex, multilateral world where you'd be seen as Hitler / Stalin if you tried to take everybody over.

But is there really enough to do? Are you mostly putting out fires and rewarded in enough interesting ways for this?

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