Gamedev Grievances #4: The Metagame Trap

Often in RPGs, strategy games and the like, players find that certain strategies, or combinations of strategies, work much more effectively than others. This leads to the establishment of a “metagame” – which, as I understand it, is more or less a set of tried-and-true strategies that players most commonly use.

This can go to the extreme and lead to only a handful of viable strategies that players ever use, because they know those are the only ones that work. Often you’ll find this in multiplayer games with a competitive sphere, where you know your opponents will be obeying the metagame to give them the best possible chance of winning – so if you want to beat them, you’d better obey the metagame, too. You can probably see how this can make gameplay unnecessarily repetitive and boring – at least from my experience.

One example of this is in competitive Pokemon, where comparatively few Pokemon appear in the so-called “Overused” tier while the vast majority wind up being “Neverused”, and strategies such as Stealth Rock Skarmory have become the norm – simply because they work better than most other alternatives on offer.

Of course, metagames aren’t always a bad thing, and in fact appear almost naturally in many games, including (I expect) Ambience once the full version’s released. However, in Ambience I’d like to avoid creating a super-restrictive metagame, and instead give players a number of potential ways in which they could viably play the game, still have fun, and still win.

One way I’m working on achieving this is weakening or strengthening enemies based on the prevailing Ambience. For example, suppose I’m fighting… I don’t know (spins wheel)… a Lava Fish.

Decisions, decisions.
Decisions, decisions. How best to defeat this Lava Fish?

There are a few things I could do:

  1. I could choose to equip my most powerful weapon and just bash away at it until I defeat it. That could work, but it might also drain my SP very quickly, meaning I have to use up a lot more valuable items to restore SP.
  2. If I’m weakened, I could choose to run away and try to escape to the next floor. However, there’s also the risk of running into another enemy as I’m fleeing – meaning I now have to defeat two enemies in my weakened state.
  3. Alternatively, I could choose to activate my Ambience of Rain, which would weaken the Lava Fish considerably. That would then allow me to defeat it relatively easily with a medium-level weapon.
    But… activating the Ambience of Rain would boost my HP, but lower my accuracy, which could cause problems when fighting other enemies later on. Also, activating the Ambience of Rain will greatly power up any Water Rats on the floor – so if I defeat the Lava Fish and then run into a Water Rat – which seems to be the case in the picture above – I’m going to be at a big disadvantage.

Regardless of which strategy the player decides to go with, I’m hoping to keep their options open and as unrestricted as possible, while also presenting a “smart” way of playing the game (making use of Ambiences) and a “not-so-smart” way (using brute force to defeat enemies). It’s all about keeping the game interesting, playable, and – most importantly – fun.

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