Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Rewards and consequences

I bought Valkyria Chronicles on Steam yesterday, a new PC release of an old console game. I like it, it is a good mix of tactical combat and strong storytelling. But after three or so battles I noticed something about the game mechanics that made me restart the game and play those battles again in a very different way. And I'm not sure that I am happy about that new way to play.

The problem is that in Valkyria Chronicles you get a HUGE amount of bonus xp and currency for finishing battles as quickly as possible. Not for killing all enemies or protecting your soldiers, no, for pure speed. Suicide rushes are the best possible tactic. And the rwards you get for that are a game changer. The xp bonus for finishing a mission in record time is twice the base xp, so by rushing you level up three times as fast than if you take it slow.

There are several points about this which make me think that this is bad game design. One is that by making one way to play clearly superior, you give players less options to play their way. The other is that you punish those who persist in trying to play their way. They slowly fall behind in levels until they are way behind the curve and face enemies that are too strong for them. I haven't seen any repeatable fights yet which would allow me to grind xp to catch up if I didn't do well in the earlier battles. Basically you are supposed to save your game before the battle, play it once badly and see the scripted events, then reload and play it better.

I'm all for achievements and badges that encourage you to play well in games. But in a long, linear game if instead of fluff rewards you give out rewards that make you significantly stronger for playing "well", or in a way the devs intended, you get a very perverse effect: You make the game easier for those already playing well, and you make the game harder for those who already have trouble. Shouldn't that be the other way around? Provide more challenge for the stronger players, and boost the weaker ones!

The 'death by slowly falling behind the curve' is an odd one - more often it happens by accidents in design. But they could be going for it.

But if it's an accident, yeah, the lack of replayable fights really bones it (UNLESS their is some sort of level safetyness, that only lets you fall X levels behind various battles and auto levels you if you aren't high enough)
Do the fights scale at all to your level? It would make more sense if they did, meaning you can't really fall behind by too much.
I had the exact same experience with this game. It's very frustrating because the game mechanics otherwise are set up very well for playing very carefully, with all of your people supporting each other. But instead of moving 3 people forward, each covering the others, it's far more rewarding to grab one guy and have him sprint forward three times, to finish the mission faster, but leaving many enemies alive behind you.

I want to be slow and methodical, but that doesn't work out.
The game has Skirmishes. These are repeatable missions. They give XP, and any troops that die stay dead in the main campaign.

The maps stay the same each time you play them though, so are pretty boring after the first couple of times.
I noticed this 'play it our way or die' approach in the single-player Starcraft 2 campaigns.

Starcraft 1 had a few different ways to play, and my favourite was always 'turtling'. The slow and steady invincible bulwark is my favourite RTS style. But with the popularity of frenetic netcafe/online competition, Starcraft became all about the esports, which is frenzied, sprinting out the gate micro-managed fights and push push push push push.

The thing that bummed me out about Starcraft 2's single-player was that they basically carried that ethos over to every aspect of the game, including the campaign, such that you were pretty much playing the game the same way you would the competitive multiplayer. No more turtling for me. :(

As a result, I no more Starcraft for me. I hate when a beloved publisher changes their direction such that they start making games for which I am no longer the target market. Like Blizzard's raid-or-die WoW endgame, Diablo 3's initial MMO aspirations (which have actually improved with patches, in my eyes), Hearthstone as a mobile TCG, Starcraft 2's esports focus, newly-announced Overwatch… an online PVP team/class-based shooter. The only way I could be LESS excited about a new game would be if it were a MOBA. Ohwait… Heroes of the Storm. They've got that covered, too.

Blizzard's basically shifted over to all the popular fad genres that make fucktonnes of money, leaving behind the classics that made me fall in love with them in the first place.
I am no longer the target market, and I don't like that.

Turtling was never a viable tactic in Starcraft 1 though. By turtling, it meant that you would fall behind in economic power and would be overwhelmed by the enemy's resource production from multiple bases compared to your single base.

I mean, I guess you could do that in the single-player campaign on easy mode where they never bother to expand, but that sort of flies in the face of the basic principles of war.
The issue you describe has (ime) been a common design technique (issue) in JRPGs for a long time now.
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