Gamedev Grievances #21: Three New Mechanics I’m Thinking of Trying Out

Perhaps if you’ve read some of my previous posts, you may have noticed I’ve developed a certain fixation with game mechanics and how to implement them. Mostly this is a side-effect of working my way through adding the main story to the game. As I add each piece to the story, usually one of two thoughts enters my mind:

  1. “Hmm, this thing isn’t really working the way I want it to. I think I might change that…” (Then, three hours and a blog post later: “Hey, that’s better!”)
  2. “Hmm, wouldn’t it be cool if I had __________ in the game. That would make things so much more interesting. I wonder if I can just add this mechanic to the game real quick? It shouldn’t take more than about half an hour…” (Six hours and another blog post later, it’s either totally done or the idea’s been totally scrapped.)

Of course, there have been times when I’ve resisted this temptation and stayed on-track with the story writing. But the idea remains. As a result, I’ve now accumulated a mental list of mechanics which I’d like to play around with once I’ve finally got the whole story finished and working.

Here’s a small sample of the mechanics I’m thinking of implementing:

1. Hunger/Belly

Hunger, sometimes known as “Belly”, is a mechanic that’s found in plenty of roguelikes, but not yet in Ambience. The idea is that with every step you take, the player’s belly empties slightly. When the player’s belly becomes totally empty, then the player starves and it’s game over. The Belly is replenished by eating certain food items, many of which are already present in Ambience (e.g. Cherries, Lemons, etc.) as healing items and so forth.

But giving these items a dual purpose – healing properties and belly-filling properties – would add another level of interest and strategy to the game. (Should I eat this item to keep me from starving? Or will I need it later?) My only concern is that the belly mechanic is more of an “interest” mechanic than anything, so it may just be plain unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Still though, it’d be interesting to see how the belly changes the gameplay.

2. “Smaller Stats”

A trend I’ve noticed in many roguelikes is that stats and damage values, at least at the early stages of the game, are very small values, often single-digit or in the tens at most.

Here’s an example from one of my favourite roguelikes, Shiren the Wanderer:

A screenshot from the latest installment in the Shiren the Wanderer series.

Compare that with Ambience, where the player starts with a value of around 30 for each stat and the damage values are also comparatively higher:

I don’t see “small stats” as a necessity for Ambience, really, since there tends not to be a single “right answer” when it comes to balancing stats. But I can’t help but wonder why so many other roguelikes use such small values for stats and damage.

I think one of the reasons why I decided on larger values originally was so that rounded values would have less of an effect. For example, when the player has a maximum of say 10 HP, the difference between 1 and 2 HP can be fairly significant, even game-changing in some circumstances. Perhaps I’ll keep the values as-is, perhaps I’ll try and be more consistent with other roguelikes. We’ll see.

Now for the most controversial change I’m thinking of implementing…

3. Level Resets

Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of the roguelike genre, aside from permadeath, would have to be the dreaded level reset. In some cases, even when you’re successful on an adventure, your level is reset to 1 the moment you return home.

At the moment Ambience lets the player keep their experience from previous adventures. Which means that introducing level resets would change the game drastically in a bunch of ways, and would require a lot of stuff to be rethought:

  • Level-grinding would no longer be an option. There would be no point in going into a dungeon to get more experience if all your hard-earned EXP will be lost at the end. It also means that players may otherwise have little reason to revisit earlier dungeons, unless they were looking for a rare item that’s only found at that place.
  • Difficulty would depend on strategy, not strength. That has consequences for me as a developer, too. Instead of making enemies stronger with each dungeon to make the dungeon harder, I would have to look for other ways to make the game “strategically” harder – for example, more enemies, fewer healing items, and so on.
  • Stat growth would have to be rebalanced. This ties into point (2) above about the “smaller stats”. Perhaps one of the reasons why stats are so small in roguelikes is so that the player has more room for fast growth when they enter a dungeon – entering at level 1 every time, and leaving at maybe level 10 or 20 would require much faster growth than at present.
  • Finally, stat bonuses would have to be revised. A key mechanic in Ambience is the player’s stat bonuses, each associated with one of the Ambiences. When the player levels up, they earn “bonus points” which they can invest into permanently boosting a stat. That also extends the length and power of the Ambience associated with that stat when the player activates it. But if the player returns to level 1 at the end of a dungeon, what would happen to stat bonuses? Would they remain in place, or would they disappear? If the bonuses remained, the player could still do some low-level grinding to accumulate permanent bonuses to their stats, which could make them very overpowered very quickly… (Like I said, this stuff takes some serious thought!)

Looking back on these three points, I’m not even sure whether I’m going to implement any of them in the end. I might have a go at hunger – that mechanic could lead to some interesting situations in-game – but the other two will definitely need some more thought before I think about how and whether to implement them.

And of course, in the end it all comes down to the number one consideration: “Does this mechanic contribute to making the game fun?”

2 Comments on Gamedev Grievances #21: Three New Mechanics I’m Thinking of Trying Out

  1. “One great example from Blizzard’s game Diablo is the business of gathering food in games. Many game designers at one time or another get the idea that they would like to make a game with a “realistic” system of food gathering. That is, if you do not gather food, your character suffers from diminished powers because of hunger. Blizzard implemented this and found that players considered it a nuisance—they must perform a fairly boring activity or suffer a penalty. So, Blizzard turned it around and implemented a system where your player never gets hungry, but if they do eat food, they get a temporary boost in abilities. Players liked this much better. By changing a punishment into a reward, they were able to turn the same activity from a negative to a positive.”

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