Worthwhile observations about game design. It’s interesting to realize it’s not really the procedural content to blame, though it’s hard to see how to make these games rewarding without some form of the gating the article doesn’t like.
the gating also follows the popular narrative structure of a quest in which the hero starts off as a simple villager and gains power and experience along the way. i also think the point about maximising variation is a very valuable element in game design; it keeps every step of the way manageable while presenting a rich, varied experience in total.
the major problems come in when you consider replayability; since roguelikes emphasise permadeath and starting from scratch every time, retracing your steps can start to feel like a chore when you do it without the new characteristics, powers and equipment that you have begun to rely on as a part of your toolbox. i’m not sure what a good solution to that is. maybe add savepoints so that you can resume play from one level below where you died, but only count an ascension as valid if you do it from scratch.
“retracing your steps can start to feel like a chore when you do it without the new characteristics, powers and equipment that you have begun to rely on as a part of your toolbox”
Isn’t that the author’s point though? Players who think of it as retracing their steps aren’t engaging their brains and trying new approaches?
Some games make it impossible for you to complete without failing a few times and unlocking more powerful abilities. Some other games take this to an extreme and just focus on the unlock over any skill at all (e.g. all the idling games).
I think the author’s point is that unlocking encourages laziness in the player, which in turn means that even with full unlock they are unlikely to complete. Hence allowing the player to think that unlocking is significantly helping their progress is a handicap - instead they need to contemplate their approach.
Consider chess - the difference there would be if you could unlock new back-rank pieces up to including the “smashinator” who could nuke half the opponents pieces. You could either learn to play chess, or you can fiddle about losing and unlocking until you got the uber unlock which allows you to win without understanding the game…
Haha, the chess comparison makes sense. I agree that this is a lot of what the author was saying, that the existence of an unlock mechanic diverts player attention away from core gameplay. Which is probably bad from the perspective of trying to maximize the amount of time the player is interested and engaged, because in-game stores are very boring compared to gameplay. :)
the gating also follows the popular narrative structure of a quest in which the hero starts off as a simple villager and gains power and experience along the way.
That usually is what happens in the course of a playthrough though – you get more XP / stats / items as you progress. Unlockables are usually ‘really cool starting variations,’ not better or worse stuff (I’m going off FTL here, not sure about other games). I think the author is trying to convey that users' perception of ‘really cool variations’ being better than starting gear is what hampers the game.
Right, but I’m personally not a fan of that narrative structure at all. :) I feel like it’s been used very well in a lot of excellent games and other works of fiction, for a very long time now, and I’d enjoy more departures from it. Not sure what that says here, though.
Agreed about maximizing variation being important, and, yes, I guess permadeath does actually make procedural content pretty much a requirement. Hmm. I do enjoy, for example, Crypt of the Necrodancer… which has this gating issue. I think it helps that I can think of its four chapters as four related games, and play whichever I’m up for at the moment after the initial unlock. I don’t expect to do any all-chapters runs once I get there; losing that much progress is just too frustrating for me at this age. Twenty years ago I’d have loved it.
One could think of it as… you care more about a game the more effort you invest in it. So the required risk to play is actually both a draw and a reason to stay away. Analogous to poker, a little.
https://youtu.be/9COt-_3C0xI - Do Games Give Us Too Much Power?
I think that video is interesting to watch and somewhat if not related, relevant to the article. Talks about how you gain power rather than skill as you level up – meaning, you aren’t getting better, but the game is getting easier. ROI for “time-spent” rather than “skills-gained”.