Item Decay Redux

There’s been some great replies to my last post, and I want to thank you for the ideas. I’m still sifting through them and figuring out what I can realistically make work, but I particularly liked these tidbits:

  • The “rune” metaphor to explain item decay: it’s a lot more elegant than “sharpening swords” and it allows for infinite diversity of power-ups. Because sharpening a sword just makes it sharp. But a rune is maaagggicccc so it could do anything at all.
  • The idea that items can be “melted down” somehow to provide temporary power-ups for other items. More directly, raw items may even be prerequisites for creating certain runes.
  • The need to use different weapons for different problems (already a part of the combat design)
  • Legendary items that are permanent and require no repair/allow no runes to be installed/etc. They’re very powerful but very specialized — so for instance you might find the epic sword of frog-man stabbing which is the best frog-man stabber that could ever be… it doesn’t ever need repairing. But it’s also not ver good against anything but frog-men.

And several others. I think a lot of people described what I already had pictured in my head, which means I didn’t explain what was in my head very well!

This all brings us around to the elephant in the room, though: given such finite resources, can I make this system as exciting as it should be? If I can’t do it really well, it should probably not be done: a half-assed item-decay system is far worse than no item-decay system at all. This is one of those mechanics where you need to “go big or go home.” Which I’ll talk about in another post shortly…

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4 Responses to Item Decay Redux

  1. Casey Monroe says:

    I would advice against the ultra-specialized weaponry.

    This is just my own personal game design feelings, but ultra-powerful ultra-specialized weaponry always feels frustrating to me. Here’s an analogy:

    I saw a game design talk at BlizzCon where the Diablo III team talked about the principle behind charms, and how they would be implemented in D3. For those who aren’t familiar, charms were items that gave you a permanent, passive bonus to your character as long as you carried it in your inventory. It didn’t have to be equipped on your person, but it did take up valuable inventory slots, which you then couldn’t use for loot.

    This is an important decision for the player to make—how many charms can I afford to carry?—but what the D3 team realized was that it was not a FUN decision. You’re forcing the player to choose between power and convenience. Users who aren’t powergamers won’t carry any charms, but they’ll always feel weaker than powergamers. Users who ARE powergamers will fill their whole inventory with charms, but then they’ll have to port back to town to put all the charms in a box every time they want to pick up some new piece of loot. Both types of users feel like they’re missing out.

    Ultra-specialized, ultra-powerful items pose a similar problem. Say I have a “Sword of Moderate Coolness,” and a “Sword of Truly Epic Frogman Stabbing But Precious Little Else.” I can only carry one. Which do I take?

    Well, if I carry the Sword of Moderate Coolness, then I can be reasonably prepared against most scenarios. If I run into a Frogman, though, I’m going to be kicking myself.

    If I carry the Sword of Truly Epic Frog-Man Stabbing But Precious Little Else, then I am TOTALLY COVERED if a Frog-Man shows up—but what about the other types of enemies I’m likely to encounter? I just have to grit my teeth and say “Man, this will all be worth it the next time I have to fight a Frog-Man!”

    The third option is to carry BOTH swords with me at all times, and switch them out depending on what sorts of enemies I encounter. This is the best overall option. But it’s also inconvenient and frustrating, and makes combat more about equipping myself than actually doing any fighting.

    These are in fact meaningful game choices. But they’re not really fun choices to make.

  2. Hagu says:

    I hope risk-adverse, grumpy old men is not a significant demographic in your target audience. But I perceive decay as ‘starting the timer.” As in if I get a “sword of one-week of frogman awesomeness” i might tend to think “I wish I got that next week when it would be of more value to me.” or “I need to rearrange my plan and grind on frogmen to not waste the sword buff.” So all these temporary buffs have opportunity costs if I don’t play more/differently. Even worse is if the buff is for one calendar week. Do players focus on the current buff or the fact that it is decaying away?

    Not to say it is bad game design; but it probably is worth some effort to get it right. I have plenty of people at work trying to get me to do stuff ASAP to relish my games presenting me with too many more limited time offers.

  3. Stabs says:

    I hope you persevere with the item decay thing.

    It seems to me that MMOs try to balance simulation against gamification. There’s guys who just want to kill things for whom item decay is annoying, a chore-creating timesink. There’s guys who want depth, verisimilitude, for whom item decay stimulates the economy, refreshes the playstyle and adds challenge.

    You won’t, as a small indie, challenge WoW and SWTOR on gamification. The experiences have been getting increasingly streamlined for years. Polished, slick, no foreplay, instant action. Sterile and repetitive.

    Item decay is a weight on the gamification side of the scale.

  4. Bronte says:

    You brought attention to the elephant in the room without answering your own question…. Are you going big or going home? Are you designing it or what? Because I would be very interested in what you come up with…