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Experimental game development concepts
Here's a few things I'd like to see, mostly from a more scientific perspective of having them tested out on the general gaming community and observing the reaction, though I wouldn't mind trying the first three concepts myself. I'll admit it, I do like making lists of things which interest me, and in that sense I guarantee that they're always a product of genuine thought or curiosity as opposed to a really weird and lengthy brand of clickbait.

1. Infinite difficulty

This is not a new idea overall, more the result of a particular conclusion related to how certain good games handle difficulty.

At least since Diablo 1, though primarily in the context of Diablo 2, we have had increasing difficulty as players join or leave a multiplayer game. Probably by no coincidence, several games which turned out quite well have used this concept - Borderlands, Killing Floor, and group phases in The Old Republic to name a few. This spurred some interesting player behaviour in Diablo 2 - defeating the toughened enemies would confer better items to the players, and was a heightened challenge in itself, so people would use the players8 in-game command to set the difficulty to the 8-player level artifically.

Then too, accepting the ability to do that, the logical progression is an actual difficulty slider for that very purpose. As it happens, Diablo 3 has exactly that, so props to Blizzard for noticing the purpose it serves and also for adding more ways to play the game generally. However, it then occurs to me that Diablo 3 also increases difficulty based on number of players separately to this slider, so we're back to the potential situation where a lone player wishes to max out the slider and fight encounters as if more players were present.

So, here's what I suggest - full freedom, no limits on difficulty in either direction. To get an idea of it, I would consider 1.0 to be the basic/nominal experience. The player could set this as low as zero, where nothing can harm them and everything falls with a single strike. Conversely, the other direction would have no theoretical limit, only the technical limitations of number representations in a computer program. I can imagine leaderboards listing players who have defeated a particular boss at high difficulty settings, and the top players are competing to see who can beat the previous best of (for example) 20.5 difficulty by beating the boss at 20.6, before some superior strategy emerges and somebody nails a 21.0 run.

2. Reverse levelling, or 'character regression'

This is completely unrelated to my general disdain for experience/levelling systems.

The idea is that the player character begins its existence at the maximum level, and loses levels as the player progresses through the game. Completion of each chapter effectively expends your character's power over time, and the player actually has to choose which abilities or character features to forfeit at each stage.

This means that the player would have to make critical valuations of their resources, such that by the time they finish the game, their remaining abilities represent the minimal set which that player decided they could not afford to lose. Ideally, completion should be at least possible regardless of such a choice, though there will be noticeable differences in difficulty between choice sets. This would add an interesting perspective on replayability - it would become a special challenge to complete the game by choosing to lose the character features which synergise properly, and win on pure skill with whatever remains. In the style of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, the player could be presented with online statistics showing how many other players shared their choices.

Initially, this would best be done by fixing the rate of character regression to a designed pace, such that all characters which have reached some given point in the game will have lost an equal amount of power. A much more adventurous experiment would be to go all the way and add a reverse experience bar which gradually depletes as the player wins battles - this would mean that, instead of players feeling the need to engage in arbitrary combat just for the purpose of levelling up before proceeding to the next area, players would instead try to avoid combat for fear of needlessly levelling down. Similarly, the challenge-seekers would run playthroughs where they complete every battle possible, and fight the boss with nothing other than sheer patience and dedication.

It sounds like an entirely backwards concept, mostly because it quite literally is a backwards concept, though I have already mentioned this idea to several people and we always agreed that it would be perfect for an indie studio to try out. The way I see it, Dark Souls doesn't stop you from slaying the Asylum Demon on the first encounter if you really want to spend some 30-60 minutes doing it because you only have a broken sword hilt; choosing a bad un-build intentionally, or indeed losing a high amount of experience intentionally, would result in an end boss encounter similar to that. Either way, the player would definitely have to try at least as hard to make their playthrough difficult as they would to make it comfortable.

3. Slow-time events

In contrast to the reverse levelling, this one is related to my deep, passionate, seething hatred and supreme disgust for quick-time events. When I see a quick-time event, my thoughts glitch upon the incomprehensible absence of any logic or reason in the feeble mind of whichever spastic developer decided that its inclusion in their game was a less bad idea than literally anything else, specifically its non-inclusion. It represents willful disrespect for the time and enjoyment of the player, and I have always said that if I were ever to write review articles which give the game some sort of score, the presence of quick-time events would result in an automatic halving1.

Every time a cutscene approaches, the developer can rely on me to be doing exactly the same thing - taking a sip of my drink. I drink a massive amount of water, and occasionally some coffee, bitter, or cloudy lemon with ice, but I can guarantee that gravity will be transferring into my mouth whichever of those is currently in my handheld beverage vessel at the very moment that the player character is no longer under the control of the input devices. To that extent, cutscenes are doing quite a good thing by introducing an interlude during which the player has full expectation of being able to take a drink without the game punishing them for inaction somehow, and adding quick-time events only serves to scrap that understanding and make the scene less enjoyable due to the player having to maintain alertness.

With that out of the way, I propose slow-time events - similar, but instead of having one second at most to respond with a specific button, the player has as much time as they want to choose between two or more buttons with differing results in the cutscene. The action stops completely, though my mind's figurative eye can see the camera slowly orbiting the frozen action. Even craftier would be to have the action proceed very slowly, and use changes of camera angle to reset the 'frozen' interval of animation, giving the illusion of constant, slow motion without actually committing the scene to any particular outcome before the player has chosen one.

Ultimately, if a player wants to be tested in such a manner (i.e. reacting as quickly as possible to an instruction to press a specific button) then I see them as part of a different target market for a separate game which is more dedicated to fulfilling that.

4. Late access

This is nothing more than an unusual social experiment; it has no actual reasoning behind doing it, other than to exist as the antithesis to the dreaded Early Access.

Essentially, instead of paying a bit less (or what should be less!) to play the game before release, customers would get access some time after release. As an approximate suggestion, if the developer plans for the first promotional sale to be four months after release for 50% off, the Late Access deal could be 50% off and give the player access at two months after release.

Of course, it would only be fair to offer Late Access customers the option to pay the difference after release to convert their transaction into a regular purchase for immediate access. For no sensible reason at all, those willing to wait an arbitrary amount of time can get the game at a discount. As far as the core idea is concerned, that is the only discernable advantage for the customer - if they make the deal before release, they get it for a discount price sooner than those who choose to wait for a regular discount sale after release. One could evolve it to include other perks such as a free DLC product, or an exclusive special2 cosmetic item in-game.

The advantage for the developer should be quite obvious - as with Early Access and pre-orders, the Late Access sales represent cash in the bank, available straight away. I do not claim that I'd buy into such an idea personally, nor that the idea has any real merit at all; I only claim that it would be incredibly interesting to try it.

5. Unlockable content

Finally, this isn't so much something different as it is a simple rename. When the world was given 'Day One DLC', where the content was already present on the game disc at launch but was not included in the original price, we had 'Day One DLC is always bad' versus 'the producers are free to use any pricing model they choose'. I'm inclined to side with the latter in general, on the grounds that the freedom to introduce new pricing models has just as much potential to create a friendly one, as well as freedom being preferable to having to instate a form of pricing model police. The only issue I see is that this extra content is being presented as downloadable.

Just for the record, again - I do not necessarily condone such a pricing model, nor am I likely to buy into it personally, I just don't protest its existence. The real problem is the euphamism, pretending, and in some cases outright lying about its nature. If Bioware3, instead of untruthfully claiming that the Day One DLC content for Mass Effect 3 was developed after the base game was shipped, had just been honest about it and said that they were locking part of the game content behind an extra fee then the magnitude of the backlash would be reduced greatly. Unfortunately, within this particular example, it is true that such a pricing model should not have been applied to the final installment in a story-driven trilogy. With that special circumstance aside, the only remaining concern is the set of people who oppose the model itself, and the standard exchange is that they are free to decline purchase.

So, given a release which is already destined to contain Day One DLC, I'd like to see the developer/publisher step up and say that blocking off part of the game behind an extra fee is exactly what they're doing by calling it what it is - 'unlockable' content. The initialism 'ULC' is even moderately catchy, though I'd hesitate a bit because it could confuse people into thinking that it means 'uploadable', which makes not so much sense. I suppose the most literal match would be player-created content and mods, but as a huge fan of backwards concepts and reversals, I would welcome ideas for such a thing.

1 Resident Evil 5 looks amazing, has hilarious so-bad-it's-good voicing, and is great fun to play co-operatively; I give it 5/10.

2 So I am of the opinion that exclusive needs to mean god-damn exclusive, i.e. anyone who wants the exclusive part has to enter into the deal which contained that part exclusively, and not have a back-door option for buying the exclusive part separately. Indeed, I would say that would be false advertising in the legal sense, since customers were sold something advertised as exclusive which is now no longer so. I do realise that this probably clashes with other rules which consider the deal to be valid at the time of purchase. However, I am also of the opinion that it makes more sense not to sell such stuff as being exclusive in the first place - if a $60 special edition of a $50 game includes a special perk, and that same perk is available for $20 separately, that's fine as long as it was never claimed to be exclusive.

3 Or Electronic Arts, as the shot-caller.
Comment thread »
As an aspiring game designer, I must say that I would love to see/work on a game that had #2 (Character Regression). There are many different ways game developers could go with it that we have not ever seen.
Evil web gnomes prevented me from responding to this the other night (I sent you the screen shot of my trials and tribulations), but you sparked some creative ideas for specific ways to apply these concepts. So much so that I had to spin my reply post off into its own thing - good job!