What if We Leveled Backwards?!

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I came to the same conclusion but starting from a realism point of view: fighting for real doesn't make you better at fighting, but rather the sustained injuries, the overuse and the trauma would gradually make you worse physically and mentally.

From a gameplay pov it doesn't really matter how characters level, up, down or sideways, just aslong as the challenge is hard but fair and there is enough variety to keep the player interested.

The good part of leveling down would be forcing the player to new areas and to avoid unnecesary fights, while trying to make the most credits as efficiently as possible. It's anti-grind.
So it wouldn't really work in a comercial MMO, but it should work for a campaign game. Should also be easy to keep the game challenging from start to end this way.

I like the idea although I think it's a little limited to where it can be applied but I think that leveling sideways would be better. A strategy RPG where you are forced to lose characters as you play but the ones you have lift are higher levels and more capable.

The Prince of Persia trilogy had moments where it felt like the hero degrades while he advances in his quest.

(e.g.: in Sands of Time, the Prince keeps losing parts of his armor and clothes until he's left with just a pair of pants and a belt and also loses his companion at the later sections;

Warrior Within didn't have this so much, but it did had a later level where you are forced to consume magical sand from time to time or you'll die, making for a sort of challenge;

The Two Thrones, had a bit of the previous two, with the Prince loosing his fancy armor early in the game and getting addicted to magical sand)

This also reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, which has a main character who gets more and more f* up throughout the game.

Although, from a gameplay standpoint, your character never lost any abilities in any of these games, I can see how it strengthened the narrative.

An interesting concept. One might call this the "Die Hard" approach as to invoke images of a battered and bloody Bruce Willis hobbling into a showdown with a smug, overconfident Alan Rickman.

I was tossing something similar to this around in the idea of survival horror. In my opinion, a protagonist in a scary, creepy Silent Hill type situation who isn't muscle-bound super cop or muscle-bound army man, is gonna have rickety aim with a their wimpy six-shooter due to being scared shitless. One might measure that as this situation goes on, aim, running-speed, strength would all be effected by exhaustion, injuries and ever-growing fear. One could take adrenaline into account in certain situations, but suppose there's no actual creepy crawlies around and one is beset by paranoia accompanied by already sizeable fatigue?

Just something to consider, I guess.

Frozen Throne. Idea of degenerating levels was used there. Also i think there was some indie rpg that experimented with the idea of decreasing levels. If someone remebers the name please remind it to me.

I notice a lot of people sighting 'games that already do this' by refering to where you level up, but the bosses still get tougher. That's not 'already doing' what Yatzhee's come up with.

He (from my understanding) is suggesting the enemies don't progress, you do... but down, instead of up. If you go up, but the enemies go up more, then there is always some point in 'grinding' to get to that boss's level anyway, if you take a final fantasy example. Sure, if you play it normal, then the last couple of bosses are going be hell. Even if you get the max level and find all the legendary weapons, they could still be a pain in the ass... but that's not the point, because that's just the game inflating the challenge to make it seem more dangerous. How many games that 'already do this' are just as hard in the last area as it is to now go back through the first few areas you breezed through at 'full power?'

Which is why an Open World would work better then a single storyline, because there's no need to inflate the difficulty. Heck, you could even unlock skills/keys that won't help in a fight, but get quest stuff in places you already cleared, requiring you to go back through the 'easy' areas and finding them not so easy anymore.

Well that is one of the problems with your point of view on games, you don't really get "RPGs" and why they are a differant genere. They come from paper and pencil RPGs where the point is to progress a character and have it become stronger, and while challenges are still presented, if everything is a constant nailbiting showdown, it really doesn't show much in the way of the progression of your character. What's more it can be satisfying to slap down the big bad like a little girl despite his smug attitude, given what he has done for the rest of the game. Doing that well (if the final boss is relatively easy) is a big part of strong writing when it comes to RPGs.

I get what your saying, and for a single player game I could see the formula your talking about working, but I don't think it would work for an MMO. I also very much doubt it would replace the traditional RPG progression mechanics.

I'll also say that in games like WoW, it is true that the bad guys in the world become trivial, especially towards the endgame, however that's the point where you wind up raiding and the like, or if your a dedicated solo player, you make another character. Bosses in raids and instance are generally not trivial when you meet them in the course of progression, taking dozens or even hundreds of attempts to finally beat in many cases. This is to say nothing of increasingly gimmicked "trash packs" which can require very counter-intuitive tactics and fairly skilled play to defeat, especially now.

Even if you liked them at one point, I think RPGs just aren't your genere to the point of not really "getting" it anymore when you start suggesting things that run contrary to the basic idea.

That said, a game where you play some kind of a fallen god who finally throws down the bad guy with the very last of their diminishing power (like the back story of a lot of RPGs) would be kind of interesting, and could really get into the nature of heroism, self sacrifice, and similar things. I just don't think it's something that would be popular as an oft-repeted playstyle.

hermes200:
I will give you props for trying, but I don't think that system would work. Thinking outside of the box, while appreciated, doesn't mean thinking backwards.

At the beginning of the game, many examples give you all your powers to test and play, but its a tease, a carrot on a stick to keep you going, since you know you eventually will get as strong as that, or even more. To revert that mechanism would discourage people to keep playing, since they know they will progress from Superman to Jimmy Olsen.

The idea of a hero's journey is that the main character grows during its adventure, learns more skills and became more confident. The player is not overwhelmed with 1.000 spells and its variations, instead he/she plays with them and decide which ones he likes or likes to try better as he uses them. Your idea might work on some stage (maybe depower the hero before his battle with the final boss, or the Bioshock level where you loose all your upgrades one by one), but as an entire game concept its hard to sell the idea of "you are like Luke Skywalker... you start as a jedi and end up as a farmer"

Besides, I hope its not meant to handle the difficulty automatically. For starters, that is far a temptation for developers to keep using the same enemies... after all, a rat would be a little nuance at the beginning, but a veritable challenge near the end. For you to create bigger challenges, you don't need to think of harder obstacles, just throw the same obstacle you throw the last 10 hours and let the stats system work itself out.

Finally, the problem is that it restricts the options a player have to play the game. If you like to play as a stealthy, melee character, it might work on easier enemies (early in the game), but it won't work as you progress through the game. That means you can either experiment with the game, under the idea that you might have to replay large sections of the game if you get stuck in a place of the trimmed tree where you can't face the challenges ahead, or forget about playing the character you want, instead use a guide to see which character class is more useful and less likely to get stucked. If you put all the options on the player and a timer to lose them, you give them a sense of urgency and force them to play with guides, because they won't know how "less powerful" a weapon will became and how much that will that affect them.

I think you aren't really looking at it the right way, but instead of writing an essay I'll try to keep it fairly simple:

One: Time makes fools of us all, even Luke Skywalker as a master jedi will age and become less skilled as his prime passes, sure he will always be fairly skilled, but never as much as before and others will have the potential to be more skilled.
However Skywalker will have the skill of "experience," someone whose survived 1000 duels will most likely beat someone whose only survived through 100, even if the one whose beaten only 100 is more technically skilled.

Two: Character Growth isn't just reflected in skill. Character growth is also reflected in their outlook, their personality, their intelligence, understanding etc. It's qutie possible for this type of story to present a strong character arc with a compelling narrative.

I think you're being a bit too close minded, and attempting to push your idea of what a hero is or has to be into a neat little box. This type of idea doesn't even need to be restricted to say a "medieval" setting. It's conceivable to imagine it in a FPS, where as time passes, you get hurt more, you get a little slower, you ability to aim suffers, maybe you can't use as many big guns, or certain kinds of guns (i.e. guns with the kind of recoil that can break your shoulder if they aren't handled properly by a suitiably strong person), the game doesn't become unplayable, nor does it mean enemies can't still have an upward difficulty curve. You just start having to approach problems differently, and show your increased skill in aiming despite setbacks and so on.

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.

There was an obscure Russian PC game http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathologic where there's a plague going around and you're sick, so your skills gradually decrease near the end.

So, been there, done that, Croshaw, my boy.

It wouldn't be difficult to justify, lore-wise. Consider Shadow of the Colossus. Imagine if you started off with a bunch of superpowers and set off to kill the most powerful bosses in succession, but that black mist/affliction/whatever stuff took away one of your superpowers in addition to making you look emaciated. By the end, you'd be fighting the weakest boss, but with none or few of the abilities you relied on to take down the bigger baddies, making it your greatest challenge.

If the enemy strength slowly decreases (or stays the same) over time, but your strength decreases quickly, it keeps the player's power-to-challenge ratio continuously rising and ramping up, just like a regular level-up game. The power gets new players hooked, and the challenge keeps veterans around... It's a brilliant idea, Yahtzee.

The problem with working backwards like this is that complexity is removed as you advance, creating a steadily simplifying experience. If you're using world of warcraft as an example, it would be very silly to have limited spells in the context of endgame raiding, where the most difficult and complicated challenges arise.

It's an interesting concept. I'd add one mechanic to keep the veterans, perma-death. You've levelled down so far that you reach a point where when you die, you're gone. I think that would add a dimension to keep veteran players around since it would actually be a huge achievement to keep such a weak character alive. Only issue I foresee with it would be griefing nooblets. What would stop a level 85 from massacring the entire veteran population who are on their last life?

I can certainly imagine a single player game where you get gradually weaker at least.
I think it could make for a really compelling story.

I have played some games that take on that concept but then make you strong again at the end. However if you were weak at the end boss you'd probably have a fission mailed sequence during the final battle or possibly a boss you have to lose to battle. Which can get cheesy. Though I suppose it could work as an MMO if right at the end of a campaign style quest line you are suddenly gifted a large number of exp from side quests you have done as well as in reward for completeing the main quest line so that you are at a adequate level to keep playing after endgame features and possible start to level up instead of down.

I picture the scene from God of War 2, where Kratos has to put all of his godly powers into the sword, in order to progress. I could see the idea being that you have to sacrifice something of yourself in order to progress, maybe creating places of intrinsic resistance as you journey, trying to vanquish something or other from your land. Or, as you progress, you take in the corruption of the land, Shadow of the Colossus style, gradually and persistently becoming more and more afflicted. As your land gets saved, you degrade more and more.

The twist I want to see is that at the end, you fight something that has picked up some/most of your lost abilities, and you have to use what you have left to know the appropriate countermeasures and rebuttals to his attacks. Maybe bring it down to attacks/spells that counter each other, and you have to know more the signs of which attack is about to be done instead of how to use an entire palatte of attacks in a 5 second time span. I don't want the last fight to unlock all your abilities, however, I want to see them permanently stuck with the affliction, unable to regain more abilities, lest the corruption gain power again. When the final boss lays defeated, the main character should need help getting away, and should continue to need help. I don't want powerless, but certainly less powerful than others that could come along.

Sir John the Net Knight:
An interesting concept. One might call this the "Die Hard" approach as to invoke images of a battered and bloody Bruce Willis hobbling into a showdown with a smug, self-confident Alan Rickman.

This concept made me think of Die Hard too: you can show up to the climax as a shoeless, bleeding mess with two bullets.

While the backwards leveling is certainly original, I don't know if I would want to play that as much as Yhatzee's "Frank Zappa Supervillain" game from the Saints Row 2 review.

Reminds me of The final boss in Okami.
I was scared shitless.

This is what God of War 2 could've pulled of, but didn't.

MiketheBassMan:
The problem with working backwards like this is that complexity is removed as you advance, creating a steadily simplifying experience. If you're using world of warcraft as an example, it would be very silly to have limited spells in the context of endgame raiding, where the most difficult and complicated challenges arise.

Ideally, as you are forced to specialize, you would also be forced to improvise and find more creative ways to utilize the skills you have. Most games are designed to reward experimentation - for example, Diablo! It's designed so that a player who is continually trying out new ways of using his skills can eventually find extremely powerful strategies and combinations.

Also, addressing the point several other people have made, it would not be any more narratively difficult than a traditional RPG. "But why doesn't the super-powered hero go after the bad guy right at first?"

"But why doesn't the super-powered villain go after the hero when he's still a flailing noob?"

Neither are impossible problems; they're about equal in the creativity required to overcome them. Both would be solved by one not knowing where the other is, for example - not a creative solution, but an easy one.

I like this Idea. If it's not made by the time I get to be a game programmer, I'll probably suggest it. It's an interesting concept, and could probably be totally awesome if done right.

It's an interesting idea, but I think you'd have one hell of a time actually getting people to play it. My knee-jerk reaction was "a game where I get weaker as I progress? No thank you." Granted, after I thought about it, the idea got more appealing. But the truth is that most people just go off their first reaction and use that as their basis for overall reaction. While some will take the time to think "hey, that might be cool," most will say "F%&# that."

I always thought a good idea might be progressive challenges. I know that in most tabletop rpg's, the hallmark of the concept is that challenges escalate based on the party's strength level, assuming the game master knows what he's doing. And in several, the escalation is actually exponential, where a level 20 opponent is not 20x as strong as a level 1, but rather somewhere around 50 to 75x as strong. Scaling opponent strengths (similar to oblivion, but actually thought out and comprehensive) would create more challenge, I think, and still give the sense of accomplishment via leveling.

But, then...you are talking about an MMO, in general, so my concept is automatically thrown out. They thrive on static challenges.

I say go for it!

It sounds hilariuos, crazy and clever. I would totally try it out.

hm, I think it could work. for one game, and singleplayer.

one of the points of an online game is to test your gaming skills against real people. but doing this by comparing how weak you are (and not by how strong you are) seems kinda weird. I guess it would discourage many players to move on in the game. The only thing you have by the time you finish the game will be a weak character and the knowledge that you beat the game.

why not make it that way: you start the game with all skills available. And with every level you gain (or lose, if you want it this way), you can choose to erase one of the skills. By erasing one skill, the other skills and/or your stats get stronger! By the end of leveling up (or down), your character will be either a specialist in few disciplines who can easily be defeated because he is not prepared for every situation, or a relatively weak guy who has in exchange for being weak so many skills that he is prepared for almost everything.

Or...the game just automatically erases skills you don't use. Because if you don't practice learned things, you forget them and stuff.

I don't think this would work too well in a MMO (of any genre) very well, unless it was very carefully balanced, it would be too easy for greifers to just keep making new characters and keep on greifing.

Where I think this would shine is in story based RPG and strategy games.
I love the idea of having to give up abilities as you progress through the game or as a variant, when you get hurt, take damage, generally make mistakes then you lose abilities or strength. So you could play a perfect game and be as strong as you are at the start, this wouldn't work where the strong/weak poles are quite extreme.

The other way to apply this is in strategy games like Fire Emblem or (Warhammer 40k) Chaos Gate where when your team members die, they're dead, no going back. I can see this playing out where you start off with an army and as people die (as a part of the story) your army becomes a squad of close knit members that start having to perform guerrilla warfare to survive and achieve your goals.

Is Yahtzee trolling again, or does he honestly think this is a good idea?

I've been turning this one over in my head for a while now - mostly as a way to make horror games get scarier as you go, rather than turning enemies into fodder. You could start off trampling all and sundry and get progressively sicker and more injured until even minor enemies are a massive threat.

EDIT: Games like Left 4 Dead actually manage this rather well, as you become more injured, slower, etc.

It's brilliant, especally if you add a Don Quixote twist to the end where the world is well, the hero is physically and mentally recovers but is emotionally destoryed as a result of the quest.

Would be cool to start at godlike status with superpowers but slowly lose those over the course of the game, and instead relying more and more on some amazing physical fighting skills. So, for example, at the start you can snap your fingers and engulf an army of foes in flames, but by the end of the game you gotta go kung fu on their asses which obviously would make it a LOT tougher.

I can see both sides of the issue here, but the concept of the reverse-RPG-system probably would only work for one or two games as an experiment, not as a long-lived concept. In fact, I think it would work incredibly well in an RPG about the life of Merlin the wizard from the Arthurian legends. The concept of Merlin was that he lived his life backwards, his memories beginning as an old man; the last time his friends saw him he was like a stranger, but when they first met him he greeted them as old friends. In game form, a reverse-level-system would work perfectly for this concept.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster for an MMO. The problem is that you would either have to start reversing the effect at end game or it would suck. I mean you down magmaw one week but due to losing your leg the next boss is too hard for you. When your raid lockout runs out, cause if it doesn't the content is going to get old faster then ever, you try to fight magmaw again. saddly, your lack of that leg means you lose. and if you do win you get to have, NOT ONE BUT TWO! missing legs. You see the problem

ALso, when you hit 60 it might seem like you get each and everyone of your spells but I have tried PTR realms, IE being given a top level toon of any class, and it is confusing as hell to skip earning each of those level. You learn you your class works a little more each level until you think you have it mastered at 85, only to learn you suck at it and have to learn some more in dungeons, then heroic dungeons, then finally you learn that raiding is HARD.

Commenting on a Yahtzee article sometimes makes me feel like a raindrop falling on the ocean, but I just have to express what an excellent idea this is. I'm a sucker for heartbreak in entertainment, from Whedon television series to games like Planescape. I want to feel for my characters and then have them hurt - or, better yet, choose to be hurt for the greater good. Yahtzee's proposal makes that story arc part of a game's mechanics - I want a game like this right now. Please?

"Spawn" attempted something like this. Not exactly, but you had a limited power reserve that you couldn't replenish and you used it to heal yourself among other things. All it resulted in were people becoming bitter at the challenge in the game and never picking it up again as a novice player couldn't get through 25% of the game without using all of it.

Might work as a quirky concept for a mini-title, like Recettear - taking place from the perspective of an item shop owner in an RPG.

Didn't you say, however, that Elder Scrolls IV stayed pretty challenging throughout...? I certainly remember that being the case when I played. Also, look to Dragon Age as an example of maintaining challenge throughout. Irrespective of your level or which dungeons you aim for (the forest, the mage tower, the dwarf city), the monsters level with you. Levelling here is only to open up new spells.

Don't forget Yahtz, variety is the spice of life.

I really like this idea. In a multiplayer game this means that the experienced players would rely on skill to overcome less experienced but potentially more powerful players, a self correcting balancing act. To reach level one the player must know every acting and button and execute his moves flawlessly. This to me says that willpower/wisdom, charisma, and dexterity style stats go up while intelligence, constitution, and strength decline, intelligence likely just tapering off. Loss of all but a few skills means that the player must have the foresight to plan their encounters and keep them short. New players would have the stamina to fight a long time, unlike their older counterparts.

Works better in single player as one goes from young adventurer to old wiseman, dangerous not for their strength but for their knowledge.

The idea I had from reading this was youre some super strong sorcerer or whatever, and you get cursed in some way that slowly strips you of your powers, or sends just your body back in time (to explain, the body's age reverses, so its less capable of holding all his powers) and as you get weaker, i suppose you could pick which powers you have to sacrifice so you get left with the ones youre used to or are just too awesome to let go of.

So basically by the end of the game, you'd have a very small amount of spells, maybe some leveled up over the course of the game with some level up system, and maybe a huge AoE or 2 to back you up when you need it, or even just a couple AoE's to spam.

The enemies would have to get weaker too, just slower than the main guy so theres still a bit of challenge. And we all know in a gaming universe, a super strong guy is very well known, so i guess the game could either follow him trying to just disappear as a normal person in the world, meaning as he got weaker he would go to places that are less hostile, but it wouldnt work too well if he planned on getting his powers back cause that would mean going for something really rare to restore his powers and those are never easy to get, especially for weak pieces of crap....

But it could work.

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