Half an Idea – Injecting Randomness into Gameplay

E3 is going on right now, and aside from making me really glad to have bought an Xbox One, it’s pretty cool to see the new ideas and gorgeous concept videos on screen. I love a slick trailer.

Still, there is a reason Penny Arcade coined the term ‘bullshot’ to refer to advance release screenshots full of bullshit hype that doesn’t reflect real gameplay. I’ll enjoy the promise and then judge the execution, just like most other gamers I know.

While looking at all of these game trailers that are coming out, I had a thought occur to me on what could be a fun addition to mutliplayer shooter gaming that I just haven’t seen done yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

There are a lot of first person shooter games already out that incorporate leveling and loot aspects. It’s a hugely successful genre, and everyone is always looking for a way to spice things up, including how to generate real surprise.

What I was thinking was, what about mid-game context sensitive bonus objectives with enticing loot or rewards?

Here’s what I mean in actual gameplay.

Say you’re playing multiplayer, with strangers from the lobby or with friends, maybe a Destiny style game that has gear loot drops. Good stuff that is hard to get, your infamous rare ‘purple drop’.

The five of you are working together towards the common objective, go through this terrain and avoid or kill the trash mobs, get to the boss fight, down the boss and then pick up the flag/salvage the wreckage and extract to the starting point to finish.

But as your group is working through the trash, player A gets a pop-up window only she sees, saying ‘Bonus Objective – kill 10 trash mobs in 30 seconds or less within the next two minutes for epic weapon reward.’

That player, and only that player, now has a choice to make. Ignore the bonus objective that has a timer ticking and miss out on that oh so tasty chance at good loot… or go for it.

The danger to this objective is that it would be tuned so as to achieve it, you would have to ignore smart blocking and cover mechanics to go full rambo run-and-gun. You would have to push like an idiot to get that many kills, exposing yourself to enemy fire and risking your entire team getting wiped as you break cover. Risk vs reward, and only you know what is happening. Unless you are on voicechat and choose to share the news of your opportunity. And what makes it so enticing is, even if the team wipes, if you completed your objective first, you got that promised piece of loot.

Or another scenario. You and your group have made it to the boss fight, you’re taking it down, and at the 15% health mark you get a popup window, ‘Bonus Objective – Kill one member of your team to gain +50% chance at Legendary drop.’

Do you do it? Do you swivel around and kill a teammate at the tail end of a boss fight, making the whole thing even more difficult for everyone and screw your partners over just for a chance of better loot?

Mid-game bonus objectives to introduce a sense of randomness, to force you to make real decisions on the fly balancing risk vs reward, with enough of a variety that you can’t easily game it. And the point is to simulate the human element, the truth that you can’t ever really know the mind and heart of the person you’re with. You have to trust them. And to make trust matter, there has to be a reason for someone to be tempted to break that trust.

They don’t all have to be designed to screw over your teammates.

There could be objectives to fall back and ‘take 30 seconds to rest’ while engaged in combat or advancing through terrain, something that can provide a small disruption to the rest of the group unless they are well coordinated.

The point of all of these is not specifically to encourage players to troll a group, although that could be the result.

As I said, the point would be to introduce the human element that is present in all real life events. That randomness, the unpredictability of human nature under extreme stress.

The teammate with a sudden case of nerves that freezes in combat, the kill-crazy idiot that loses their head and forgets to duck, the buddy that runs too hard and has to catch their breath right when things go bad. The team mates on a heist that at the last minute turn on their partners to try and take the loot for themselves.

The team member that sees a friend about to take a rocket to the face, and leaps in front to take it themself, sacrificing their life for their friend.

Greed. Fear. Rage. Protectiveness. Caution.

In a video game where your character suffers instead of you, you the player in control may not feel the emotions your character would in that situation, but mid-game bonus objectives could entice you to ACT as if you were suddenly influenced by strong feelings.

To your fellow players, the effect would be as if you really did crack under pressure or flee the fight, or go nuts and walk into the open like Kurt Russell in Tombstone.

It’s a half an idea at most, but there are bones in it that I think could be fleshed out into something pretty damn fun, especially in a team based multiplayer shooter. Even among friends using voice chat together and able to warn each other, it would add a level of tension and suspense that would be an interesting addition to a game.

Okay, so here is where I hit publish, and someone tells me it’s already been done and by who. In a world with this many imaginative gamers, the possibility I came up with a new idea is ridiculous. But what the heck, I am enjoying imagining the possibilities to spice up my games.

Give me your feedback, what do you think? What kinds of mid-game bonus objectives do You think would toss a group a curveball in a fun way?

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2 thoughts on “Half an Idea – Injecting Randomness into Gameplay

  1. There’s not much out there that does that as far as I’m aware. Betrayal style mechanics are difficult to pull off in an online environment given the propensity for rage. That being said, if you were to do something like that in local multiplayer, where someone can reach over and smack you in the shoulder for being a dick? Letting friends police themselves? Think Zelda 4-Swords as an older example.

    It’s funny, because while they’re not random per se, that’s actually a pretty large component of the game I’m working on, Eon Altar (http://eonaltar.com/). As a total shameless self-plug here, it’s a Co-op RPG, but everybody uses their phones/tablets as their controller, meaning the game can send folks their own missions–which sometimes work at cross purposes with the rest of the group! So yeah, we agree with you that there’s something about those individual goals, and choosing to cooperate or compete, that can be really compelling.

    I think you’re also onto something in terms of the real-time, time-sensitive pressure aspect in an FPS could turn out really interesting behaviour. Whereas Eon Altar you can think about it, because it’s an RPG and much slower paced, given a pop-up and say, 60 seconds decision, go time, could really make people behave erratically. It’d be an interesting experiment for sure.

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  2. While i like the idea as a way to simulate various breakdowns etc i amnot sure how compelling gameplay it would be. There might be some way to swing it where it isnt just you being a dick to your team (basically), but it sounds like something to be wary about.

    As a second point, I am not sure the human element it should simulate doesnt allready exist. If i think back to earlier today in a moba-match. Some dps turned on his tail and fled a teamfight we would have won had he stayed, simply because he ‘cracked’ under pressure (didnt take the optimal choice for the team due to individual concerns for his “health”). Result in this case was that he got away and the rest of us stood no chance to either win nor flee. Even without any special mission this was clearly.
    Similar human elements are variously simulated by dc’s, random people going afk. Difference of oppinion about the optimal routes to engage, etc. etc.

    I am not sure giving people more reasons to do stuff that is bad for their team is a good design choice for internet multiplayer games. Ragelevels are rather high as is :-P… But as talarian mentions, some of this could easily work in other sorts of coop games. And i know certain boardgames use similar mechanics with random event cards that could make it beneficial for one player to sabotage the team efforts.

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