RPG's and Suckage

(Cross-posted on gamasutra.com)

As part of our ongoing series on our new game Defender's Quest, I'd like to talk about suckage.

When you say "This SUCKS!" you're usually not saying "I hate this." There's a little more to it than that.

Here's how it usually goes down:
  1. You are passionate about a type of thing (film noir, first-person-shooters)
  2. You have expectations of a particular thing of that type (Casablanca, Call of Duty)
  3. That thing fails to meet your expectations
  4. That thing SUCKS
There's a few corollaries to the above.  First of all, terrible things that you don't care about generally don't "SUCK."  When you see people on forums ranting and raving about how awful the latest Call of Duty* or Dragon Age* game is, it's because they're deeply invested  in those games in particular and the genres they belong to in general.  You won't see them complaining about, say, the new Barbie Horse Adventures game, even if it's awful.  As the old saying goes, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy."

*Not passing any judgment on those series here. Just noting the perennial phenomenon of strongly held negative opinions.

Secondly, the more you care about something, the more it sucks when it disappoints you.  Furthermore, your emotional investment and expectations give the letdown a tinge of betrayal.  You don't just feel like the experience was bad - it was bad when it should have been and promised to be good.

This isn't a particularly new theory.  The game designer, however, must understand this reaction in his audience if he hopes to control or mitigate it.  The tricky part comes when you design for a genre that is a minefield of conflicting expectations and red-hot passion.  I am, of course, talking about RPG's.

Upgrades, Equipment, and Skill Trees

Cross-posted on gamasutra.

As part of my continuing series on the design of our new tactical tower defense / RPG hybrid Defender's Quest, I'm going to talk a little bit about upgrade systems, equipment, and skill trees.

Before we get started, let's ask ourselves a simple question: what's the point of upgrades?

Upgrade Complete!

The way I see it, an upgrade system provides the following things*:
  1. A steady dopamine drip
  2. A way to customize your play style
  3. A chance to make interesting choices
*I'm sure there's more. These are just the basics.