Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Ding! Now You Suck Less

Shamus Young | 23 Oct 2009 21:00
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4.It lets the player customize both their character and the gameplay to focus on the parts they enjoy the most. "I hate sneaking around in the dark. I'd much rather just lob fireballs at these guys, so I'll put more points into magic."

How game designers muck this up: Too often, games will offer single-solution challenges. This lock must be picked. This guard must be charmed out of the way by your speech skill. This puzzle can only be solved with a fireball. A good game will let you choose any way you like to solve a problem. You can talk the guard into giving you the key, pick the lock or burn the door down with a fireball. A bad game will make you do a little of everything according to the wishes of the totalitarian designer. See also: forced stealth gameplay sections.

5. If done right, leveling can let players seek their own challenge level without needing to fuss with the difficulty slider. "Whew. These guys are really hard. Maybe I should level a bit before moving on." Or "Man, these guys are a cakewalk. I think I'll skip this dungeon and find something a little tougher and more rewarding."

How game designers muck this up: The biggest way to mess this up is with auto-leveling foes. Did you just ding level 7? Guess what? So did every single monster in the game world. Congratulations on gaining absolutely nothing! The other way designers mess this up is by applying hard level caps to areas of the game. Maybe you must be level 7 to enter the jungle. Maybe you can't go above level 7 until you leave the jungle.

Either that, or they add one-way doors to the game world so that you can't revisit old areas. It feels good to go back to the troll that gave you so much trouble at level 5 and give him his comeuppance when you hit level 10. When designers don't let you do this, you feel like you're running in place instead of climbing in power.

Either way, it puts leveling on rails and takes away your freedom to experience the game at your own pace and skill level.

Game designers are always worried about calibrating difficulty, introducing complexity and offering freedom. Leveling is an elegant and rewarding solution to all of these, as long as the designer lets the system work the way it should without walling it off with arbitrary limits.

Also - and this is probably the most important thing - the level-up sound really needs to make a nice, satisfying "ding."

Oh yeah. Love that sound.

Shamus Young is the guy behind this website, this book, these three webcomics, and this program. He's really looking forward to hearing the level-up sound in Dragon Age when it comes out. Ding!

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