What if We Leveled Backwards?!

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I can see your points but I disagree, purely because when Prototype takes away all your powers I became really bored of the game :P

It's an interesting idea. Nearly impossible to pitch, but if you posted it independently on a free game site like Armor Games, got a good story and ironed out the bugs, there's a chance it'd work.


See now one of the main problems with this (NOT a game killing one, mind) is generally the enemies.

I mean, as you start in any game, the enemies are as weak as you, then you gain in power and find the next ones challenging, etc. etc. but there is the ability to... backtrack and fight some smaller ones again if you miss a quest or wanna help a friend (especially with MMO's). Which is lost with this, because once you get TOO weak or limited in some way, you simply might not be able to do anything. I mean, do you move onto areas as you level down till you're fighting boars and scarecrows?

The only idea that comes to mind is not just stealth (as with an FPS) but more an idea on skill. You get fucktons of weak skills, but as you lose more, the ones that remain are stronger than before.

I do agree with what others have said about your armour becoming more and more useless.
One thing a friend and I liked to do with Diablo 2, was unequip all our weapons and armour and simply see who could beat up the other first.

Hmm, the undead campaign in frozen throne had this and i liked it a lot.

It's really good for new players since you won't die that easy, combined with the "non pvp zone" idea from wow you could prevent the griefing...
Sure you shouldn't end up having just a fireball as a mage but maybe while learning more firemagic you forget about the other kinds.
So you will end up as a firemage with a decent amount of firebased spells but nothing else, being not necessaryly weaker than at lvl 1 but more specialized.

In the end it's just a big metaphor for crappy scaleing in todays games but still...there is potential in this idea :)

Normally I fully concur, but this reverse WoW is just... not fun to me.
You write that RPGs suffer from bad difficulty curves, which is only the case with BAD RPGs in the first place.

You level up so you can stomp on stronger monster's faces. If all the enemies are roughly equally strong there is indeed a decline in difficulty. But that should never happen.
YOU get tougher, and so do the challenges. And you get glee out of that fact.

"It'd avoid the common issue that I choose to call "Resident Evil 4 Syndrome," in which the final boss still attempting to come across as smugly threatening at the final showdown falls a little flat, considering that the hero has just one-man-armied his way through every single one of their allies and resources."

RE is not an RPG. It's a game that tries to incorporate some RPG elements and fails so hard at it that bits of brain probably fell out of the dev team's noses.
The final boss should always be an insanely stronger MoFo that only the most bad ass hero (team) can beat. Like Sephiroth and Emerald Weapon in FF 7. Basically it's get Knights of the Round or walk away :P

I can see your points but I disagree, purely because when Prototype takes away all your powers I became really bored of the game :P

Yes but Prototype's fun lies in your constant progression until you're basically a God, this would be the exact opposite.

Who Dares Wins:
Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne had Arthas level down and it was amusing since the last few levels required you to play as him alone with no armies. Also the concept of leveling backwards is good as long as there is no extreme, newbs aren't godlike and "pros" aren't frail little men that a squirrel could kill, but the starting level is the upper-middle styled level, and the first one still has you kicking ass but not through DPS and raw strength.

I was going to mention Frozen throne. Ninja.
But that degradation is scripted, you don't level Arthas down by gaining xp. It demonstrates the concept well though. You do have to rely more and more on your army instead of merely supporting your heroes, unlike the rest of the game where you can make a lowly orc as powerful as a god.


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.

That is why most stories are more interested in the hero's rise instead of its dawn. Even experienced game designers like Kojima has difficulty trying to reflect that, since games like MGS 4 doesn't show his character becoming any less skilled and are able to perform incredible feats while he was about to throw up his own lumbs 10 minute earlier...

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.

True, but while most of those things can be told through dialog or cutscenes, character growth in terms of skills are reflected through gameplay.

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.

Maybe. If someone would have told me 15 years ago that RPG elements would be the standard in FPS, I would have laughed. I am not closed to new ideas, but they have to prove themselves. I am not open to new ideas just because they are new, either. Some things only work on paper...
In other words, if a game releases with the reverse leveling system, I expect it to be all the way. I expect it to be an integral part of the experience, otherwise its a gimmick. Standard leveling system is the core of modern RPGs... Entire dungeons or enemies are made or deleted to match what the "expected" level of a player is at certain points. And even if its old as dirt, the most interesting part is... it works. For an RPG, the leveling system is both a gameplay representation of the coming to age hero becaming more competent and a very good carrot in a stick to keep players engaged: "One more battle, one more quest, one more level". It sounds symplistic, even macabre to aspire to that level of skinner box-like experience, but that is how most games (specially RPGs) are designed. If the new system works better, great... lets go for it. If it doesn't, if it does not make sense, either from a story or gameplay perspective, nor does it provides a way to engage players (because they know the more they fight enemies, the more side quests the complete, the fewer skills they will get left), then its just a way to diferenciate the game from any other game in the genre, a gimmick...

idk about the idea with the MMO (not that I'd play it anyway), but with the RPG is seemed interesting
I mean, you get weaker and more beat up as you go (I'm thinking Frodo and Sam in LotR), but it could be a story opportunity with character spiritual growth?

The idea sounds like a brilliant concept. A concept which could make an amazing game.

But the real problem would be that although this concept would undoubtedly make a great MMO, the griefers mentioned would become intolerable. The sheer volume of them would make them impossible to play with and ruin the experience for the more advanced player. The method of slowly wearing away their abilities would never really solve the problem. The only way I can think of stopping them would be to give the advanced player some all-powerful PvP ability, and in the end isn't that just contradicting the whole purpose of this idea?

Reminds me of Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde from the discworld series.
They may be frail old men, but it's because they're badass, is how they're so old.
You could still have the oldbies trounce the newbies, purely on skill rather than powers.

I wouldn't call the system of leveling up a failed system; just a poorly implemented one. I think a game can still have the leveling thing and still have that difficulty curve. Programmers just gotta stop treating bosses like !@#$ you just gotta beat up and turn them into puzzles of sorts.

That aside, the leveling backwards thing is an interesting idea, but that begs the question on how you would scale the enemies. Usually, the higher up the enemy is in the hierarchy, the stronger (or smarter or more skilled) they are. So by the end of the game, you have nothing left to fight with but your wits and a sharp stick and the final boss is the rough equivalent of a Gundam, with a weak point on his neck.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
...which is failed design because games are supposed to have escalating difficulty curves.

I honestly think this is one of the biggest design fallacies in existence. Especially as it relates to RPG elements.

Consider: Many RPG games have choices for the player. They level up in certain ways, they choose skills, items, loadouts, what-have-you. Rewarding a player on successful choices should necessitate the game becoming easier. You grabbed skills with powerful combo synergy? Well, I guess this level will be easier for you then! Good job!

I like the idea. It would show your skills and strategy planning far better than if you had 16 AoE spells, 100K damage weapons and armour that means you only lose like a 10th of your health under your belt.

Yes, when you start out you will have so many different skills you have no idea what most of them do, which can be very confusing. But what (I hope) some people do is take time out of the main storyline and go and experiment with the skills and spells you have on side quests or random enemies. See what they do, what ones are crap, which ones are amazing, which ones are handy in a tight spot and so on. You can then decide which ones you want to chuck and which ones you will cling to with every fibre in your body. Experimentation is a newbie's friend, and it is a close companion of mine.

It's an interesting idea, though I find in most games I play that you only become more powerful in theory, because the power level of your enemies increases at least in line with your own power. A classic example would be WoW, where a Northrend bear is more deadly than any of the mages, liches, warlords and minor godlings you fought on the way there.

That's something I found slightly irritating in Prototype. Sure, by the end of the game you can sweep through the lowly rank and file like they're not there (though when can you not in that game) but the majority of opponents thrown at you towards the end are either annoyingly tough to handle (Super Soldiers, who are less vulnerable to your attacks than tanks and require lots of fiddly QTEs to beat them) or just plain immune to your best powers... so you end up ignoring your blades, your claws, your whip in favour of throwing heavy stuff at the final boss, which is a bit anticlimactic.

I think that this "leveling down" concept could have been well implemented in Batman:Arkham Asylum. Since Batman's outfit gets all ripped up and torn by the final boss battle why couldn't his gadgets also get damaged? You'd still get more gadgets as the game progressed but the quality of some (or all of them) would break down after certain events (like how Batman's costume breaks down after certain cut-scenes.)The grappling hook could jam up from time to time to prevent hasty escapes to perched gargoyles while being shot at. Batman's batarang pouch could have been smashed in causing Batman to take more time to pull out a batarang. If implemented well this "leveling down" system could add new abilities (to give the player an incentive for continuing) but cause said abilities to backfire from time to time due to damage from a boss or event.

Bioshock 1 did something lke this as the splicers became electricity proof, forcing you to upgrade or change strategy.
If anyone here remembers counterstrike, they had an interesting mechanic for the guns, maybe not intended.
the easier it was to use a gun, the weaker it was. The big AWP sniper rifle was a pig to use, but if you practiced and got good at it you were unstopppable.

really, you would want to trade the abilities the character has to ones tht are harder to use, or reqire more strategy but are more powerful. that way old guys have a rewrad for their service and a new chalenge while noobs have something to look up to

It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it would work in an RPG, because half the fun in an RPG is growing more powerful and making an effective character build. There would at least need to be trade-offs; maybe your character could lose combat effectiveness in general while gaining a few powerful, limited-use abilities.

This seems like it would be more useful in an FPS. Maybe your character could have radiation poisoning, and gradually loses maximum health capacity even as he gains more powerful weapons. Instead of giving rewards for killstreaks, an online shooter could give penalties, thereby preventing one expert player from dominating a game full of beginners.

As for RPGs, it seems like the decrease in difficulty is a result of creating an effective build. Since most players will be able to create an effective character, especially with the abundance of guides for just this purpose, it seems RPGs may be better served by just increasing the difficulty.

What a silly idea. I see where you're coming from, but people like to build characters up, not see them get worse and worse. Even from a lore point of view it'd be hard in most games to justify losing abilities over time.

You could lose armour, though. That would retain the skills you have, make the game harder and you could even gain more skills to compensate for loss of said armour. And it'd make sense, too, because armour does break down over time.

Well, depending on the setting, old age works too. Sort of.

Getting older you might gain skill, but you can lose physical ability.

Past a certain point, the losses in reflexes, strength, speed, mental agility and so on counteract whatever gain in skill you might have had.

Also, in the real world, serious injuries often don't heal properly, again permanently making you weaker than you were.

From a realistic perspective (and thus one of lore), the progression is improvement in skill over time, and initially (childhood to early middle age) and increase in raw physical and mental ability as well.

But after that, while skill would still improve, your raw ability would deteriorate, so the 'old master' might know how to fight more effectively than the 'young rookie', but the young rookie would be a lot stronger.
These kind of things cancel out to an extent, but after a while it would definitely lead to declining ability.

It's an interesting idea, but there would need to be a very good development team to pull it off well or at all.

The main problem with the concept is that as you lose abilities, the game will become more and more 'same-y' and boring.

Unless the game developers grow brains and try to put more variety into the game than just "what flavours of attack you can use".

I'm in an MMO mood, so I'll talk about this in relation to MMOs:

The problem with a game like that is with reducing the amount of abilities or stats that a person has, you reduce the possible amount of mechanics you could use. For instance, if you had a later boss that had a constant AoE damage spell, but all of your AoE heals had been taken away by the time you got there, it'd be pretty damn impossible to keep people alive. Add to that the fact there's little replay value in using a few core skills with no perks or anything available because they've all been stricken.

I'd like the idea you put forth: of a god stripped of his powers gradually by a curse or constant fatigue, or whatever. But I'd say that in the endgame of such a game, there should be a long, epic quest line that takes forever to do, but allows you to finally regain your powers. That way the leveling journey will focus you on the loss of your abilities and such, but there can actually be end-game content. It's also a good excuse for game designers to put stories and branching paths in the game by making the lvl 1 epic questline branch off depending on how you want yourself to evolve back into a decent character.

I think it's intriguing and something I'd give a shot.

Well, I don't really agree on this topic. I think that games won't be so fun when I don't have the getting stronger part. A good story could hold the game, but when I imagine myself playing a game like this, I feel it is just not fun, and having fun is my main goal when playing.
Advancing in the game will just make me more miserable, removing elements all the time, even if the designers add new elements in the story and gameplay and such.
But hey, maybe I'm just special. That's just what I think.

Wow, after reading through the article, I have to say...This just might be crazy enough to work!


The main problem with the concept is that as you lose abilities, the game will become more and more 'same-y' and boring.

Unless the game developers grow brains and try to put more variety into the game than just "what flavours of attack you can use".

And how do you propose you do that? The core concept of Yahtzee's game is that as you level, you get weaker and loose abilities. No matter how deep the game is, you are still looking at a game that is getting shallower as it progress... it may not be totally shallow by the end game, but it will be shallower. There's no getting around it. Which also means not as fun to many people.

The fact is simple - pretty much every game, be it a fps, rpg, action game, etc - starts with you having less abilities and possibilities and gaining more.

The games gets easier either because:
A - The difficulty doesn't scale properly, so your new abilities make it too easy.
B - You've figured out some new combo that is much more powerful, so even if the game does scale, you're still destroying everything regardless.
C - A mix of both.

In both case the problem has more to do with poor design (poor level scaling or not playtesting all the combo properly) - this is just a very round about way to fix the problem... and it opens up a can of worm.

interesting idea, but may not be my cup of tea, but a good basic idea to work from.

Yahtzee, you say a lot of things, most of which I nod appreciatively at or smirk knowingly along with. This, however, is a stroke of absolute bloody genius.

Couple of other scenarios that would work as vessels for the concept: someone with some wasting disease that slowly atrophies them over the course of the game, or alternately this mirrors something I'd been thinking of off the back of District 9: a game where you start off as a gun-toting soldier, but slowly transform into a monster, losing the ability to use your guns but gaining less direct skills that, utilised with more thought, lend you the ability to accomplish your tasks.

I actually had the EXACT same idea some time ago: An MMO where you "evolved backwards"
I framed it as rooted in mythology, where a race of gods finds themselves slowly going extinct, and they must find some way to survive, by clinging to each strand of power.
The basic ideas where this:
-1) Each player would start as an olympian-like deity in a heavenly paradise, with a medium-large mastery of each and every way of combat available. This would act as the game's tutorial zone. Since every player would have every power, they would be free to experiment with everything in the game's first hours.

-2)Now here's the catch: As the players "leveled up" they would become more powerful in the areas they used, but significantly less powerful in others. If you mainly used fire magic, and some healing, they would improve slightly, but every other area would DRASTICALLY decrease.

-3) As the game progressed, you were forced to prioritize which powers you would continue to use, and which you would let wither away. The catch here is that the more you focused on one power, the stronger you would become. A "pure" fire user would be more powerful than a fire/healing user, but less versatile. You could change your power balance somewhat, by simply altering your play style, but, like in real life, it would be impossible to completely offset the atrophy to one area.

-4) To avoid the greifing of oldies by newbies, the game would be split in 3 main areas: A Valhalla like paradise (the starting area), a purgatory (think most of the levels from god of war), and finally, the mortal realm.

-5)From a story perspective, characters would see their own character's struggle, slowly falling from heaven, and ending up in the human world. In the game's last sections, they would become something akin to mythological heroes, or even superheroes, helping mortals with their problems.

-6)The most important part of the game was the visual aspect. The idea was that your choice of powers reflected on your character's appearance. The original fable did this somewhat (using melee would make you stronger, using ranged weapons would make you taller, and using magic would give you glowing tatoos).

Here, I wanted it to be faaaaar more advanced. Character would start as Dr. Manhattan-like blank slates, and gradually change appearance to reflect their powers. A fire user would have his hands begin to catch fire, while a melee user would bulk up.

However, as time passed, your character would also reflect what powers you wouldn't use. An end game fire mage would be a frail old man, with a gigantic fiery claw that he used for the last xxx levels to chuck fireballs, while a healing user would look more like a Lord of the rings treant, more tree than man. Similarly, a melee only user would be a gigantic hulk of a man, but with a mind only simple enough for single words.

Holy crap that was a lot of writing, why did I write all of this?

lol even if it didn't make perfect sense the way you brought it up Yahtzee, this is something my friend and I have been talking about for a while.

One thing you forgot to mention is how this could affect shooters (which is what my friend and I were discussing about primarily). Especially since shooter games are mostly about "skill" rather than your combat gear, in games like Call of Duty when you progress through multiplayer chances are you're becoming exponentially better than people just starting out. If a shooter game has been live for even as much as a week, it's pretty much pointless to get into it these days because everyone who already owns the game is going to already be 100x better than you, sniping you as you spawn with the combined awesomeness of their advanced twitch reflexes and their new railgun that you can only unlock once you've reached Lv.50 War Veteran level.

If shooters started you out with all of those awesome weapons and upgrades and then slowly took them away, it would give newcomers a chance to keep up with the players who have become naturally skilled at the game.

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

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

Read Full Article

Wow, that's certainly clever. I don't know if I would want to play an MMO made out of the concept, but I would definitely give a singleplayer and/or co-op RPG like this a whirl. Sounds like it could be a really engaging experience.

I can't see this working in MMORPGs, seeing as so many players level different classes/races just to try out their abilities. That takes time, and brings more money in for the publisher.

It's an excellent idea for single-player games, if implemented correctly. A nicer idea might be a direct correlation between your abilities and your health. You can either use a dizzying array of interesting powers at the increased risk of dying, or power through with a relatively bland skill-set.

Although not really the same as what Yahtzee was aiming at, I had some thought of something like this.

Basically we all know it's really easy to reach max level in an MMO simply by grinding and you can die as many times as you like without having much consequence (there's some like lost loot or buffs) however there's no real fear of death.

I was thinking that to spice up Endgame a little you would lose Exp every time you die. This would be set on a multiplier so that mabye first time you die you lose 500 exp, then when you die a second time you lose 3x as much, so 1500 exp, then 4500 exp and so on. This would be set on a cooldown timer of mabye an hour or so. This would leave people to actually put some thought into their game, mabye join up as a team and keep healthy and grinding wouldn't be so grindy with a fear of death.

This would only start when you reach something like level 60 out of a game where you can reach level 80, and the maximum you can drop down to is level 60 (you would lose skills in the same arc that you develop them). The exp that gets taken away would be based on a % of how much that level takes (say 5%, so for a level that takes 50000 Exp you would start by losing 2500 exp on your first death, 7500 exp on your next, 22500... 67500... after that you're screwing your levels over by continuing).

The % would then increase as you reach closer to maximum level so it's even more difficult (i.e. you lose 50% by level 79 so 2 deaths and you're just over level 78!!) and you have greater fear of death.

This would hope to get rid of a bunch of those top level dudes who spend way too much time grinding, and it would give the game a new flavour for those bored at endgame.

So basically in common with Yahtzee's proposal, it's kind of when you get to a high level you still have the potential to lose it and go backwards, but you're not going to lose it all, and you also have to gain it first. It would be nice too because it gives you a chance to go back and remodel your character arc in a different way.

Huh this is actually pretty good.

I immediately thought of a game where the main character is inflicted with a curse, from something right before an opposing force aims to take over. The longer you fight the weaker you become, and if you fight to long then it's game over.

I think Yahtzee's finally gone mad with power

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