**Disclaimer** The following blog is a parody. For avoidance of doubt, Otto von Quarzis is NOT a prophet and his former Rules Firm is NOT a law firm, does not provide legal advice, and, you know... isn't real. Carry on.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Brazil Story: Or... Hard Fought Versus Blowout

I hope all can forgive me for the obvious World Cup analogy in this post.  Today's question revolves around what is better - a blowout fight or a hard-fought damaging fight?  I pose this question more in the context of "boss fights" than in the lead-up encounters (whether we should even have boss fights is a topic for another day).

While watching the Brazil-Germany game the other day, I was very excited when Germany scored - the first two times.  But, three, four and five? It soon became apparent that this was going to be a run-away disaster for Brazil.  The whole "will this be a shutout" question is not a great reason to keep watching the game.  Contrast that with the Netherlands versus Argentina game - that was a nail-bitter until the end!  So, which was the better game to watch?  Just speaking personally, the latter kept me engaged until the end - I sort of drifted off (and admit I missed seeing the Brazil goal) for the first one.

A boss fight should be challenging.  Not all characters should be able to walk away from it. That leads to one of the major design challenges for any computer-based role-playing game.  How do you let it be challenging - while still allowing the players to continue the story?

Computer games have save points - so in theory, a player can just reload... and keep at it.  This, of course, defeats the hard won aspect.  Death is not permanent, and hard fought means more of a puzzle solving/reflex flexing aspect - rather than the traditional role-playing (tabletop) aspect of - well, not all of our characters lived to see this victory. Of course, a saving mechanism is necessary for an RPG.  Otherwise, the game would just become unplayable.

What I am suggesting is adding a game mechanic that incentivizes a player to "keep the roll" (so to speak).  At the end of a major boss battle, some of the player's NPCs (or party members if using an old style RPG mechanic) will be dead.  They will have been slain in glorious battle - but dead for a cause.  At the end, their death should propel the story forward.  For example, having a party member's death open up a whole set of sub-quests unobtainable by any other means.

To steal from one of my all time favorite computer RPGs, Baldur's Gate, if Minsc were to die - a sub-quest could pop up - return Boo to home (which might just happen to be a derelict spelljamming ship).  Other sub-quests could be boss villain specific - i.e., NPC/PC gets killed by Ogre-Magi chieftan, and his/her sister/brother/child pops up to swear vengeance on all Ogre-Magi launching a specific set of related sub-quests.

The possibilities are endless - special weapons/armor/trinkets depending on who is killed, when and by whom.  The other possibility is just straight XP bonuses for heroic battle deaths that get applied to the party for their emotional suffering.  Another take is having the PC's main character die - and letting it happen.  There have been a number of games lately (Rogue Legacy being a case in point), in which character's descendants/legacies get woven into the game.  Perhaps a tough boss battle means that the hero doesn't end up winning.  Instead, the heroes grand child takes up the mantel in order to avenge the hero.  Weave in different sub-quests that bring the offspring back to the site of the boss battle - and then continue the story, albeit perhaps altered somewhat.

The idea being - make the battle hard, don't worry about everyone surviving - and weave the story around it.  At the end of the day, a great story is one that weaves the challenges into its fabric.  The blowout game is one that won't necessarily keep a person until the end - or at least not on the edge of their seat engaged.  Unlike a traditional table top RPG, computer games have certain constraints created by their nature. However, that doesn't mean designers can't bend those constraints as far as possible.

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