(I mentioned in this post that it’s fun to think of ways to fill the gaps we spot in entertainment. With that in mind, what follows is one of a three-part series (a TBS first?!) about designing a better RPG – or what I currently think of as better – with each post focusing on one unique or not-seen-often-enough game feature.)
(today’s post: 487 words)
My first game mechanic is “exhaustion”.
Most games feature a go-go-go mentality. Characters don’t sleep. They adventure through constant stress for weeks or months on end. Characters come within an inch of their life, pop a potion, and keep going without a care.
I *fully* understand that it’s this way because no one wants to watch their character recovering/eating/using the bathroom/other-non-heroic-activities instead of playing – and that’s good (unless we’re playing The Sims).
But I would like to incorporate exhaustion in some way toward the goal of making you feel more heroic when you overcome it or achieve despite it.
What’s a more powerful image in fantasy stories than the wizard or fighter who exceeds his own limits and battles into unconsciousness, knowing only that he did his best but uncertain if that was enough for survival?
In my immersion post, I talked about my character struggling to stay conscious after in-game days sought trying to escape a dungeon. Knowing my character would pass out at any moment, I gave up the search for the exit, crept into a room, and hoped that closing the door behind me might help in some way to let me survive the night. Whether or not it did anything, my character did wake up. I escaped the dungeon. And I had a gaming moment.
Developers are all for sandbox games that allow gamers to have their own story, so why not give players additional tools to let them add flourishes to their dramas? When a player comes up against a tough situation, instead of the same ol’ boring crutch of the “reload” to try again and hope to do it the way the developer wants you to do it, why not an in-game alternative?
Imagine a battered, seemingly-defeated warrior trapped against a cliff face by overwhelming odds using a “berserker rage” so he has a chance to survive when normally he would not dream of it. Or a sorcerer hunkered down in an abandoned, barricaded cottage, slinging spells well after he normally would have used them all up in the hopes that he can make it another hour or two until daybreak when the zombies will disperse in frustration?
Instead of the player reloading and tension evaporating, the player makes his final move and wonders, as the screen fades, if it will pay off. What if he is afraid that his character might actually die because there is no re-load? What if he is holding his breath, hoping his gambit paid off, as he waits for the screen to fade back in? It could be a winner.
This isn’t an easy idea. It comes with all sorts of issues, balance and otherwise. It needs a lot of attention. But to get “drama,” the alternative is a pre-packaged cinematic coming, predictably enough, at the game’s conclusion – and generally lacking in any real tension. And that isn’t good enough. RPG developers can do better.
Crazy? About time? Let me know what you think and stay tuned for post #2!