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Bad Games Can Give You Good Ideas

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 6 Aug 2013 16:00
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I occasionally dabble in indie game development - perhaps 'occasionally' is too generous a word - and I find I'm on a bit of a game concept bender. They've been coming to me more often lately. Perhaps this is the sign that I need to get another game project finished. Or perhaps I have a massive undiagnosed brain tumour and my mind is desperately working to create some kind of legacy before it loses sentience.

One of them came while I was working on my review of Dark, relevantly. It was the bit when I was talking about how the game establishes that the main character became a vampire simply by being drained by one, and then has you kill a huge proportion of enemies by draining them, which logically should have turned them all into vampires too. I made a little joke that maybe I'd prefer to play one of those guys, they might be easier to sympathize with.

But then I thought, wait, I think I'm onto something here. Because of course another game I've played a lot recently is Rogue Legacy, the Castlevania-esque Rogue-lite in which each time you die you're replaced by your son or daughter (finished it last week, actually; use the circle of flame attack on the fourth boss, that shit cleans up like a Dyson). And a vampire-themed genealogical game could be a natural fit for such a format.

Let's say we do something a bit Dark-esque. You're a newly-created vampire and you're trying to reach some powerful figure or boss who in some way will make things better. So you go to the building where they hide out, and have to infiltrate it, going level by randomly-generated level until you reach the penthouse suite where your ultimate target lurks. I picture it as being a bit Metal Gear Solid-y, top-down, stealthy, ambushing the baddies before they can attack you sort of model, hopefully not as woefully implemented as it was in Dark.

The twist being that every time an enemy successfully kills you, you transfer your vampiric curse to them, and that enemy then becomes the player character, pursuing the same goal through some weird magic racial memory. Now, personally I think this creates a very neat and natural player upgrade system - enemies gradually get harder over time, as one should expect, and the moment they become too difficult for the player character's current stats, the player character will be replaced by someone better suited to the present environment. Also, the enemies would have different classes with different abilities and focuses, switching up the play style each time. It would be more elegant than Rogue Legacy's ever so slightly clumsy arrangement where you pick your next protagonist from a brief list.

At this point there are two issues I see with the idea: firstly, that there's no reason to avoid death if every time it happens you just carry on from the same spot with a provably better character. I think the important thing about the Roguelike model is that there needs to be a feeling that things have been 'reset' each time you die. To that end, perhaps there could be a more standard 'vampiric powers' skill tree that grants you better and better abilities the longer you are able to survive and gather experience. So when you do die, you might have better base stats, but you can't teleport or shoot lasers out of your eyes anymore.

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