What if We Leveled Backwards?!

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I think it would work well for a stealth game. Like in the Splinter Cell series, you pick up various gadgets throughout the game which help you get past larger and more aware groups of enemies. But what if you started with everything and lost gadgets throughout the game? Then you'd have to rely more on your pure sneakiness. And the story practically writes itself: your spy agency is under attack from terrorists so has increasing limited resources and the game ends where you're on your own with nothing but your basic survival instinct, facing the big evil mano-a-mano. I think that would actually work very well if done right - you get to mess around with silly gadgets in the early missions and then it gets more intense later on.

I think I would like the idea in a Linear RPG, especially one that showed a characters progression. Maybe from novice to heroic legend of the world but eventually as a character gets older and their great deeds fade into obscurity, no longer seeming relevant in a day and age where fantastic stories of the past are just distractions from immediate problems like poverty.

Fable 2 to 3 has a setting I think could have been adapted with the building of a unified nation of Albion (except not using the actual setting of Albion because there were only 4 heroes). What if this new developing world had heroes at it's forefront, pushing back boundaries, clearing roads, rooting out dangers? A hero doing this would be idolised by communities for certain deeds. Maybe slaying a Bandit leader or terrifying scourge of the roads would make a hero celebrated across the land. Pubs named in their honour, books written about them etc. This is where the character develops to the peak of their abilities.

Then when a hero has done everything they can the time to sit on a pile of gold and ride the wave of fame all around. Jump forward a bit and the hero has lost most of their money, with no means to get it back as there is little need for a hero anymore you may travel to some frontier taking on the role of a washed up saviour. Think about Landon Ricketts from RDR. He was the greatest gunslinger of his time but when he gets old he lives in Chuparosa as an unofficial lawman. He is not as good as he was 15-20 years ago but he's still one of the best around.

This keeps a hero 'heroic' but with the feeling he is past his prime, longing for the days when he faced down the most terrifying creatures and individuals in the land, when his armour was shining and wherever he went people would cheer and shout his name. Eventually the hero runs out of fringe towns to save as regimented armies and defence forces grow in power and influence. The hero loses more of their money and becomes a drunken nuisance for the town guard. Reduced to a laughing stock in the people eyes those heady days of adventure and glory are a distant alcohol soaked memory when a character is reduced (in gameplay terms) to a less powerful being than when they started out, now with outdated equipment.

If you wanted to make a character arc the hero could rise to the challenge of fighting a new evil being, finally, tragically, perishing against something they would have defeated in their prime. Now remembered by the people for their good deeds rather than their later follys. Maybe inspiring a new generation of heroesto take up the sword.

So the process begins again. Alright I've rambled enough about that. Any ideas?

I think the most disturbing thing about this article is that Yahtzee admitted to play World of Warcraft to level 60...

Worr Monger:
I think the most disturbing thing about this article is that Yahtzee admitted to play World of Warcraft to level 60...

Yahtzee plays every game he gets to the max or else Escapist would stop paying for his better games. Not that Yahtzee likes any particularly expensive games, I think the only games he really enjoys at this point are Dead Rising 2, Just Cause 2 and Angry Birds.

That would work extremely well and would implement 2 genres into the game without making it feel 'schizophrenic'. First, it would be action/shooting because you can just go around killing shit and then second it would be stealth because you're too weak to do anything else.
If this were to work, then the enemies would have to either stay the same or decrease in strength or else it'd just be 'cheap'.

Otto42:
Combine ideas. Make it more like real life. Specifically, aging.

Start off weak and useless. As you progress, you gain abilities. As you progress further, your abilities get stronger. But as you progress even further after that, your abilities weaken or become less effective. Thus the strongest guy is actually the one in the middle of the pack. To make this interesting, as your abilities lose effectiveness, you also gain some level of immunity from those abilities used by others, to simulate the "I once could do that" type of thing.

Now, combine this idea with items. Starting off you've got nothing. Later, you gain things. Later on, you trade them for more powerful things. Eventually, you've got a whole lot of powerful things.

So the end result is that the start game has the player weak, with a learning and gaining curve just like your average game. This provides the player with both tutorial mode and the ability to learn new things, to keep them interested.

In mid game, the player is powerful, but may not have the best stuff to work with. So he's got to rely on his skills and wits to pass the challenges facing him.

Finally, in the end-game, the player is once again weak, but with a ton of powerful items and a lot of knowledge of abilities and skills. He has still rely on his wits, less on his learned abilities, but he's got the gear to back it up, and those abilities aren't as effective against him, due to his prior knowledge of them.

That would be a hell of a lot of design though.

Quoted for AWESOMENESS. That would make a great turn based RPG.

"Surgical nuclear strike"

Can you really be surgical with nuclear weapons?!

On a serious note though, the main problem I see with this concept is how confusing it would be at the start of the game trying to work out how to use everything! And actually it would surely make the game get less interesting as it progressed? Imagine if you had started Half Life 2 with the full weapon set (magnum, shotgun, smgs, rockets, and the upgraded gravity gun!), it would just be depressing every time one of them was taken away from you.

As long as it hasn't be done by well the usual "Right in the first level you have all the weapons, all the levels all the powers.. oh but at the end you lose it all" thrope.

But if instead you begin as a "born god" in a world and have limited energy to fix things. That you get weaker as you go along! Sure :) Would be refreshing

I can think of quite a few ways to get this to work, narrative-wise:

The player is infected by some virus or curse. It gives him supernatural powers but has some Ill Effect™. It could be death, or something worse (like l'Cie from FFXIII). The point of the story is, of course, to cure yourself by finding vaccines, counter-spells, or whatever.

The player is some incredibly powerful wizard/demigod/whatever, and to cleanse the land of some new evil he must empower statues (or whatever) with his abilities, losing the abilities but defeating the boss or whatever.

The Planescape: Torment strategy, you're trying to kill yourself for whatever reason, go do that.

You're transferring your abilities to some god your zealot character worships, or some cultural leader for the greater good. Bonus obvious twist ending: said person is bad, now kill the guy who you gave all your powers to, hope you like that infinite combo you used half of the game, you'll be seeing a lot of it.

As for features, I do think it is a large problem that people like more features as the game goes, as such, I'd recommend some sort of feature trade off. For instance, perhaps in the demi-god or virus example as you lose powers, more people will talk to you. This could even be represented by some sort of persuasion skill. For extra flair, you could make the more powerful spells be more obvious features (like Evil Pentagram Soulsuck Horror could be your devil horns), and getting rid of those would vastly increase your score, compared to the moderate increase of making your fingernails a little less black and pointy. Of course, this gets into the issue of making sure the more "powerful" powers aren't outweighed by some broken combination of the weaker powers, but that's always an issue.

If you don't want to make it simple power swap, i.e. get better at things that aren't your powers the game could become more puzzly or stealthy as you lose powers. Switching from an action game with slight elements of those other genres with more and more complex portions, with bigger and bigger penalties for getting caught, simply by proxy of not being able to murder the guards. This would be difficult as well, due to the risk of making the late game too much of a genre switch, and thereby alienating the people who liked the early game, and making the people who are interested in the late game suffer early on. It would be difficult, but I think it's possible to pull off.

Edit: The main other problem I can think of is that the player may not realize a lot of good late game spells earlier in the game, and thereby give them up. This is especially a problem if the game has some form of crowd control. I'm not entirely sure how to solve this issue.

An intriguing concept. i'm sure i'm not going to say anything that anyone else hasn't already, but i feel this would (and has) done well as a movie or a game by Square where you don't actually play, just kinda watch.

If by the end you are "a frail brittle helpless fop" then how could you possibly defeat the BBG? if i cant beat up a football player now, if you take away everything i own, break half of my bones, and blind me i am most certainly not going to stand a chance then.

Correct me if i'm wrong, but isn't the concept he is describing pretty much the natural progression of anyones life after the ages of 18-mid 20's?

I think the idea would work.

Take for example Dota clones. You have on average 4 abilties (some passive, some sticky taped on). But gameplay is actually fun even though you have just 4 abilties (guild wars has 8).

The end gameplay would be fun.

The challenge is putting these mechanics in a setting that makes sense and will still be enjoyable.

I'd give it a try.

Rather than ridiculously scaling enemies up to match the player and in the end taking more than one player to defeat a boss enemies stay the same as the player gets weaker.

This made me think of the ending of the first God of War game where you have to fight Ares with a stupid giant sword instead of the f*cking chain weapons you spent the entire game mastering. It certainly made things "interesting". I do believe that was the last controller-smash inducing game I've played.
I get it from a design perspective. It ups the ante. But at least give the player a chance to practice with the damn sword before entering the final battle. But to be fair, there was a similar weapon that you get earlier on. But who the f*ck used it because it was short range and stupid.

I must concede, however, that its an idea worth further exploration. I think one of the most disappointing aspects of a game is becoming super powerful, and then the game ends. Why not grow powerful and then grow weak. And to whomever thinks the idea of leveling backwards wouldn't make any sense "lore-wise" clearly hasn't though of what it is like to grow old. It makes much less sense to continuously grow ever powerful because nothing in the world works that way. 'Leveling up' without a decline is something video games taught us.

I like the idea of losing spell's and abilities as your character progresses in level, but while you whittle down the variety of ways you can fight in battle the ones that remain should increase in versatility. If I start out as a new player who can swing a broadsword or whatever weapon and do insane amount of damage then progress to a higher level player that only does half as much would make me feel like I just wasted my effort. However if as a new player most of my wild sword swings and spells missed the target then as a more experienced player I had a higher chance of each strike, lower in damage, making contact and evading enemies attacks, which as a new player you wouldn't have to. the game would become more tactical but still feel rewarding.

However I don't think you should stop at whittling down abilities and strengths. I have noticed in many games I've acquired various party NPC's that follow me around. Having to send them to their deaths like in masseffect instead of slowly building up a party of boring characters would be a nice change.

Great article, really interesting idea. I'm sure it would work if the right people were put on it...but then again that's the case with so many things.

The idea reminds me of the Fraction/Larocca story arc for Iron Man in the Invincible Iron Man series. (Great read, by the way) Where Tony basic degrades to nothing during the course of the arc. In that case the situation really lent itself to the story, and I think it would work for a game too, as long as it was kept really tight.

This idea is amazing but I fear unless it's with good genre-adapters like Nintendo or VALVe (Nintendo can go from platforming to action-adventure to fighting to first-person shooters to casual games pretty successfully and VALVe is doing singleplayer-based, multiplayer-based, first-person adventures, first-person shooters, top-down shooters, and even a DOTA game) I think it'll end up like Mirror's Edge--great concept, but implemented averagely.

"Tfarcraw Fo Dlrow"? Got a bit of a ring to it. They should also make a certain game called Ecaps Daed. I believe this concept would give the game a sense of REAL survival horror.

Here's another bloke who signed up to just to post on this.

I think a good way to sugar the pill on this is to make it a player's choice what they give up, and have that sacrifice cause something in the world. It should also be a fairly short game, so that players can reroll and try out different combinations. I'd say, no more than six hours or so.

Here's my vision: A sorcerer has summoned six demons, and they've each taken over one of six cities/nations/races, by claiming their stone of power. Your job is defeat the sorcerer, but if you attack him directly, the demons all come to defend him. You have to decide which order you want to confront the demons in, and when you do that, you have to choose a power to give up. The citizens of the city/nation/race the stone of power belongs to would be empowered with your ability. There wouldn't be a hard block on attacking the sorcerer at any time, so you could just decide to deal with less than six demons, or maybe even none of them.

You'd start the game with nine powers. Three melee, three magic, and three special abilities. Melee would be divided into fast and weak, medium, and strong but slow, Magic would be Fire(high damage, low range), water(medium) and lightning(low damage, long range), special abilities would be speed, invisibility and flight.

Which ability you empowered each group with would change something in the world, like if you gave a warlike group invisibility, you'd hear about and see ambushes where they would just appear out of the night, if you gave a pacifist group a melee ability, their culture might be split as some decide to use that power. It'd be interesting to let you level your skills to make them stronger/more versatile by using them, and then weight the effects of your gift based on how much you'd levelled the ability you gave up.

The focus of the game would be replaying to see how different methods of victory play out. For example, if you use a pacifist route, and sneak into a demon's lair using flight and invisibility, lock him out of the stone of power by empowering it with your weak super speed ability, then just leave, you might force that group to take heavy losses to remove that demon and all his loyal, non-mind controlled followers themselves, rather than killing him and all his dudes yourself. Basically, who you give what would be an important factor. It would be like doing quests for the New Reno families in Fallout 2 or supporting a certain group in Fallout New Vegas, except actually going and killing the sorcerer and ending the game would have very little effect, it would all be based on their relative power levels.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: What if We Leveled Backwards?!

Yahtzee's crazy idea for RPGs that might actually work.

Read Full Article

A nice idea but not for RPGs or if you do it would need to have some serious conditions.

The best example I can think of is an Armed Police Officer getting caught in an town where guns and bullets don't spawn on every kill.

OK so he can use his Pistol for a while until he finds the only use for it is a case for a novelty cigarette lighter or its OK for a while and the enemies then put bullet proof armour on their whole body.

At this point the player is forced to adapt, create weapons, use tools they have, lighters that actually do run out of oil, bottles they find all over the darn place... as if he's been trapped in a place with a nearby bottle factory.

The point is when stuff is finite, you eventually have to adapt your plan.

Levelling backwards is technically another term for adaptation and you need something more challenging to take its place.

Another example more RPG based, supposed I start with a big magic bar say 1000 Mana Maximum and Health at 1000HP Maximum.

You have access to a spell book that you can use with maximum powers however every time you use a spell, one half of a percent of the spell's Mana use is deducted from the maximum Mana so you can never get all Mana back. At the same time when you take damage, you can't recover your health 100% so you eventually get less and less and less maximum health.

Now what...?

(OK this is becoming an essay)

Now you look at the spells... four spells do the same amount of damage, one fire based, one air, one earth and the other water based. The player then discovers that the one creature that is on fire can be put out with a water spell making it 10 times weaker.

Weaknesses can help them reserve energy and using the correct combination of weapons, spells and items you can take an enemy out that took 500 manna or 50 swings of the sword, and 50 Potions becomes 100 Mana and 5 swings of a sword and 2 Potions.

At the same time your other skills evolve, combine potions with other items, combine liquids and vials and make items four times powerful than the sum of its parts.

(I'd better stop now)

This reminds me of an article I read about Gabe Newell commenting on Half Life 2 Episode 3. He said one of the big ideas behind episode 3 was, "the fading of [the players] abilities." I interpreted it as the player progressively losing weapons, because of bad situations (ie falling off of a legend and having it break, the weapon permanently jamming, or having it being taken from you by, say, an advisor (the floating telepathic thing)) I thought it made sense because at the end of episode 2, you don't lose any of your weapons. You simply get pinned to the wall by an advisor and then dropped to the ground (unless they all break when you get slammed into the wall, but there's no in-game indication of that). I know Half Life isn't an RPG, but it's the same idea really (the fading of your abilities/leveling down).

This would create some epic level conflict. "Do I keep my medicine level, or lazer weapons? Which do I use more?"

EDIT: This concept would have worked wonders in Dead Rising...I mean Frank/Chuck doesn't even sleep during those three days, let alone all the wounds he sustains from crazies/zombies.

On top of that, this could justify putting all of the loud and/or psychotic survivors first, as the crazy ones would be the first to die off

of course, and i haven't read through all 11 pages of comments so excuse me if it's been mentioned, but a big part of leveling up a character has to do with expanding your options.

for example, in most fantasy games where you can play a mage type character, you may only start with one or two spells, say a fireball and a healing spell. part of the fun of playing a mage is to get access to all those wonderful spells that are available to do different things. to start with loads of options - fireballs, healing, freezing, levitation, charms, summoning, etc, etc.- and then be forced down to the original two would be brutally no fun. while the idea of making a game harder as you progress is compelling, doing so by taking away options and choice doesn't make any real logical sense unless it's a main factor of your story (perhaps you're a demon summoned from the underworld to complete a task, but the longer it takes, the longer you're present in the earthly realm, the weaker you become. that makes a sort of sense)

anyway, any game seeking to reduce the options to your character would ultimately have the game playing like a boring, albeit more difficult low level game for longer. imagine being reduced to one type of attack to defeat enemies and having to use that same attack over and over and over again. the repetition would make the game feel stagnant.

the idea certainly has merit and in a few well crafted games with strong storylines, it could definitely work, but i don't think this could ever become a ubiquitous or popular game mechanic.

This is the dumbest idea for a game that I've ever heard in my life.

Zom-B:
part of the fun of playing a mage is to get access to all those wonderful spells that are available to do different things.

In a MMORPG I would certainly imagine the leveling-down thing to not work all that great, at least not without basically reinventing the MMORPG genre first. In a story driven single player game on the other side I could see it making perfect sense.

and then be forced down to the original two would be brutally no fun.

When done right it would force you to adopt new tactics and strategies. You might start out just button mashing and throwing fireballs all around you, but when there are no more fireballs you have to improvise, try new strategies and solutions to old problems. Of course level and enemy design must adopt, you can just fighting the same enemies the whole game, but for example a downfall from a king commanding armies to somebody who has to survive on his own by sneaking past enemies would work perfectly well. The battles would change and now instead being at the front, you might be hiding behind enemy lines.

And of course from a plain story perspective it definitively works, plenty of movies and books have done it, have the hero start out as cop with gun and privileges, then have him come under suspicion, take away his gun and have him hunted. The adventure game Overclocked also had a similar plot, you basically try to uncover a mystery, but the closer you get the more people lose trust in you and close to the end you are basically left with nowhere to go, it was one of the most gripping storylines I have seen in a video game in quite a long while. Now of course it was a point&click, but I could certainly see similar storylines been done in other genres, be it RPG or an action game.

Games where you have enemies scale to your own level have not been poorly recieved. People WILL find a way to game the system. I think guild wars attempts to reduce grind the best, by not focusing on inherent stat advantages but rather skill collection.

Oh and fire emblem is a good game that averts the notion of the game getting "easier" as you go on. It does this by creating a presence of permanent loss.

Games where you have enemies scale to your own level have not been poorly recieved. People WILL find a way to game the system. I think guild wars attempts to reduce grind the best, by not focusing on inherent stat advantages but rather skill collection.

Oh and fire emblem is a good game that averts the notion of the game getting "easier" as you go on. It does this by creating a presence of permanent loss.

This idea could actually make a Superman game WORK!!! Think about it, you start off with all those godlike abilities that let you tear through any challenge. And then Lex Luthor hits you with some experimental ray.

It doesn't kill you or take any of your powers away at first, but after each stage/boss fight/etc. Superman notices that his powers are fading. This can put special emphasis on the player to prioritize your time: save helpless citizens from ordinary crime and improve your "Hero Rating" or go for the big challenges (supervillain fights) while your powers are strongest and the fights are easier. BUT if you defeat a boss with a lower power level, you'll get a HUGE bonus to your Hero Rating.

Another idea is that at each "Deus-Ex Artifact" in a fantasy game, the player has to invest his power into it, thus losing levels/abilities. At the mid-point of this game, you fight the Big-Bad and DIE!!! However, because you activated those artifacts, the Big-Bad is sealed away. But not for long!

Thus, the second half of the game is played as the hero's sire/apprentice/chosen one, and you level up normally. This would function much like the prologue stage from Metroid Prime. I think these ideas could really work, how about you guys?

My thinking is this. The character starts out with one uber powerful spell that can kill all enemies in one, maybe two hits. As the game progresses, however, he meets enemies that are immune to that one spell. So the character learns a new spell. But there's a twist!

Every time the character learns a new spell, his spell power gets weaker to spread capability to the other spells, and the total power stays the same, just distributed across multiple spells. The character ends up learning to chain spells for situational effect ( such as quake to knock the enemy off balance, revealing his weak spot, before chaining water and lightning to take him out).

At the end of the game, you've beaten the boss and either get to choose between taking his magic jewel and continuing this story where you left off (sandbox, dicking around mode, the jewel makes all of your spells more powerful), or leaving the jewel there, quietly slipping into memory (unlocks new game + mode, keep all your powers at your current level, keep your combos).

Either way, you get to be a total douche to the enemies, combining the total douchebagery aspect of Alex Mercer (Prototype) and Starkiller (The Force Unleashed), so that you can kill practically anyone in any way you want that you can chain spells to do (like for instance, say, turning your enemies into magic yoyos? Hmm?). And side quests, powers that work with the environment, and collectables, of course.

I think I just like dicking around and experimenting with new, unique, and exciting ways to kill people.

I'd say that's a better damn cool idea, we gotta get yahtzee some money so he can start making these games he theorizes because I would love to see them done. Even just to experiment, but of course money can't just be summoned and developers will never do anything different because different is risky and they need to make a profit. *sigh*

Strangely enough my team in a class project had this idea last term when we were told to come up with and analyze a game concept. The main idea would be that the player is an elderly wizard who is cursed with a de-aging spell, and as he becomes younger he loses his magical ability and social stature (as people no longer recognize him), but gets better at melee attacks as he regains his physical strength. Eventually he would age down to childhood and have to fight off a lone goblin as the final boss, before disappearing into un-birth.

The neat thing about the concept of levelling backwards with experience rather than up is that it makes open-world stuff much easier to balance. If all of the content is roughly the same difficulty but the player continually gets weaker, then a difficulty curve is maintained no matter what order the player visits areas. It also forces the player to think about resource management a bit.

This...is a very good idea

What I think would add a realistic element to games and such is that you don't gain levels or anything as such, instead you have it's about simply gaining items and learning how to use them in unique and effective ways.

You've got a wrench and all you know is hitting things with it, then you read a D.I.Y magazine and you can fix up your character's hideout with it, read a car magazine and you can tune up cars.

That sort of thing. It's not about being more powerful, it's about having options.
You're still just as weak, you just have to out-think and out-preform your enemies.

Erm, sorry thread I really don't want to read 383 posts to see if I'm a repeat, so a quick skim is all you get but

As an MMO if you levelled down, would the game NOT end at level 1?
Let me say that differently: that would leave developers pretty stuck for what to do when you hit level one. Can they really pull off making you any weaker by that point? You can always increase the level cap and make people stronger but there's gotta be a cut-off for weaker.
One way around is to have your players start at 100, reach 40 where there's still stuff to take away and then force a "stop" till your next update, but you have kinda just stuck yourself with - let's pretend - 8 updates of 5 levels, no more, no less. Get my picture?

I'm not saying the numeric's can't be fooled with to get it to work, but it sure wouldn't look pretty.

*shrug* Yes, no?

I think a nice twist to the idea would be to start with all abilities in a basic level, and giving the player some time to find out which ones correspond with their playstyle best. Then, as the game progresses, the player gets to improve abilities by sacrificing other ones. That way, there would be no more screens full of useless abilities, while your hero would still have strong abilities at his disposal. With the addition of a system of several ability branches, that you had to give up completely in order to access later abilities, this could even lead to a very definite later game class specialzation. For example you would start with a mage that has all magic powers, but in order to be a good destructive mage, you would have to get rid of, say buffing completely. That would allow developers to give starting players only a handful of options, giving players incentive to work towards the class they want.

I don't know how many people are going to get the reference, but this very much reminds me of my favorite book series, The Dresden Files.

Every book has our hero, Harry Dresden (professional Wizard living in Chicago), up against some sort of monster of the week or cosmic horror threatening to tear reality in half (because hey, somebody's gotta do it), and Dresden steps up to fight the baddie. Except, most of the time, the bad guy is a whole lot stronger than him and Dresden gets by on sheer luck and relying on allies along with skill and tricky ploys.

In every single book, Harry gets beat to shit and back. It's kind of one of the defining things about the series, and makes him a good character. By the end of each book, he's been beaten to near death (sometimes mentally and emotionally as well as physically), is running low on power with which to use any magic, and might actually be dying. But damn it, he always manages to fight as long as possible, even when it might (or definately will) get him killed. A good series, by the way, definately recommend it.

In the gaming world, you can kind of (vaguely) look at Metal Gear Solid 4 for this. Snake, the hero that's been whispered about for years, is, well, old. His back acts up if he runs for too long, smoking makes him cough something terrible, and he's on the verge of death, for the most part. Granted the game mechanics still allow you to kill armies by yourself as long as you keep Psyche up, but the idea and possiblity was there. The final act actually played this out beautifully (especially in that hallway that I'll try not to spoil here), and the final fight at the end really gave you the feeling of a soldier on his last legs finishing his last mission.

Granted, they could have played with it more in MGS, but I definately think it could work in an RPG setting, where the rigors and confrontations of your journey leave your worn out and weak near the end, at the point where you'd want to be your strongest. I'd think that it would make victory that much sweeter.

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