In game design, there is a term known as “dominant strategy,” which describes a means of overcoming the game’s challenges in the easiest and most efficient way possible. By the nature of interactive design, this is a pretty unavoidable situation. (Just checkout “glitchless speedruns” of just about any game and you’ll no doubt find a lot of people playing in very similar ways.) By its own right, it’s not a bad thing so long as you acknowledge it in your designs. This is why the best weapons in shooters tend to have the least ammo, why classes in RPGs tend to fair better or worse in given situations, and why certain tools have limited functionality. I’ve personally been playing the most recent Ratchet and Clank game and I found the “Agents of Doom” to be vicious, efficient little killers that the enemy can rarely adapt to… unless the enemy can fly. Suddenly, my explosive little robo-dinosaurs, which once carved a hole through levels with ease, are made useless.
So much of game design is a balancing act, and the handling of dominant strategy is no exception. Recently while watching twitch streams of Gears of Eden (which is mind-blowing, by the way) we discovered an interesting strategy. To combat the Rover’s battery drain, we found a player who didn’t use fuel cells or their solar panels… instead they just made a bunch of batteries and switched them out whenever they drained completely. Naturally, since this mitigates one of our ever-present challenges (rather unceremoniously too, I might add), we had a conversation about addressing this. Was it okay? Did it need a “nerf”? We came up with a number of solutions, such as limiting the player to one type of each battery, or having the battery upgrades apply to the battery instead of replacing or swapping out against the existing battery. We will continue to work on this balance and test solutions internally as well as externally with our alpha players.
Another issue that surfaced during our own testing streams was related to replacing parts. It’s beneficial to carry around spare parts because, as you’re playing, your parts degrading as they’re used, and there are some parts where if you can’t repair them before you return to the nearest SINTER Forge, it can seriously ruin your experience. Imagine having your motor die while you’re on the opposite side of the asteroid. Or you wheels break. You’ll still move, but that’s a long way back. And if you don’t have any spare parts, you might just want to shut the game down and start over (because persistence, death, and respawn are currently non-existent in our early alpha stages).
This is where we come to another way to handle dominant strategy: create your own. There are plenty of games that give you a wide array of options, but very clearly want you follow certain paths for one reason or another. In Star Wars: Jedi Outcast, for example, you’re given a whole bunch of cool weapons… but the game knows you’ll only want to use your lightsaber, so the developers made that system as fun as possible. With this design strategy in mind, we’ve decided to implement repair kits. Sure, you could spend your time replacing parts over and over again even though you’ve already reached the top tier, but that’s not very fun nor does it feel very realistic. It also, as described above, leaves a glaring hole in our design.
Repair kits will be inexpensive consumables designed with emergency situations in mind! Sure you could use them to keep yourself in tip top shape at all times, but we want them to be available when you’d be otherwise stranded or inconvenienced. Our very own, developer-made, dominant strategy.
And that’s it for this week’s Dev Update! We’ll be back next week with more! If you want to keep up with all things GoE, check out our Twitter and Facebook pages, or give a listen to the most recent episode of our Reaching Eden podcast! We mentioned streaming in this article quite a bit! If you want to catch our stream, be sure to follow us on Twitch! Thank you so much for your support and thank you for reading. We hope to see you again next Wednesday, but until then, have a great rest of your week.