Thursday, September 22, 2005

9999 levels

The problem I have with most of today's games is that they are SHORT. They usually have some sort of plot that unravels through several levels and after you finish the game, you usually don't have many incentives to come back revisit those levels. Although designers are doing what they can (e.g. allowing you to play through those levels again, with different characters or weapons), the fact is that level design takes time. How to make the game longer?

The first solution would be to generate the levels dynamically. I'm fairly surprised nobody yet came up with algorithm that would generate weird playable levels for example for Quake 3, Half-Life 2 or whatever FPS is currently fashionable (at least i don't know about it). Using this approach, you could have whole planets that you could run through in 3D! Of course the problem is creating the algorithm but I'm surprised no one even tried in the current-generation games (except some basic puzzle games).

The second solution is to make the game worlds so simple levels can be generated very quickly, either by person or by rather simple algorithm. Remember Sentinel with 9999 levels? See also Angband with its dynamically-generated RPG levels ("Champions of Norrath" for PS2 recently attempted something similar, with average success).

Enter Nippon Ichi, Japanese authors of turn-based RPG games for Playstation 2.

As you can see from the screenshot of their "Phantom Brave", they are certainly brave to use such a shitty graphics in Playstation 2 game. However, their games are not about graphics. They are strategy combat games for hardcore gamers who enjoy leveling their characters up to level 9999. Yes, I wrote "9999". After 10 hours of "Phantom Brave", my main character is somewhere around level 15.

To create strong characters in their "Phantom Brave" and "Disgaea" games (and probably also in the others), player has to revisit old (pre-designed) levels he already conquered, preferably with secondary characters so that they can also level up accordingly.

Their games also contain billions and billions of randomly generated levels you can enter to level up and get rare equipment (even levels hidden inside your equipment). It doesn't hurt that their games have weird plot and bizarre sense of humor ("Disgaea" is about cute little Satan's son), but you really don't play them because of the plot.

This might seem pointless to some people but it brings us back to the beginning: Why do we play games? Try telling "World of Warcraft" player that his levelling up is pointless. Nippon Ichi games just help you to realize that - even today - it can be perfectly satisfying experience just to see some numbers increase on the screen.

"Phantom Brave" is currently available in European stores, "Disgaea" (older and slightly better) is hard to get but you could find it in some bargain bin somewhere. (Their "Makai Kingdom" should be released in Europe soon.) Visit DoubleJump forums to get free downloads of strategy guides for both games. Those are REQUIRED if you want to grasp basic concepts.


Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

Hah, well, I actually remember that Rise of the Triad game, that was kinda clone of Doom, but developed rather cleverly. You have also reminded me of the level generation, that was quite cool, since it allowed you to play almost a new game ;-)

As for the RPG - it should be soooo easy to generate levels incl. quests, I just don't understand why they don't do it this way...

Anonymous said...

Soldier of Fortune (maybe SoF2) also has random mission/terrain generator.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Diablo.
It was probably most successful with random generated levels.
There were just some schemes like desert or dungeon..but "level design" was dynamic.
Therefore everything was different every time you play it. And it was mostly about levelling you character up, too.

Anonymous said...

FPS RPG Hellgate London from creators of Diablo (exBlizzards) will have generated quests and levels. Full in 3d..

Eso said...

Daggerfall has generated dungeons, but sometimes was impossible to finish them - too narrow corridor or doors too high up...

And there was no originality, all dungeons seemed similar.

Andrej said...

Don't forget the Blade Runner dynamic generated characters.

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, there was no randomness in Blade Runner.

Blade Runner was an adventure based on multiple paths to finish, but no random generation.

Anonymous said...

Coded Arms has randomly generated levels. And it sucks. The are repetitive, boring, empty and dull. I preffer 5 great levels then 50 dull and similar.