Hardcore Progression and Replayability

8:37 AM John Gamble 1 Comments

I'm a big fan of hardcore one-life modes in games. It's like flipping on an intensity switch. I rarely don't jump straight to hardcore, but I love it for after I have become very familiar with a game, and want the extra intensity and challenge.

I've been playing some The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth over the last week, and it got me thinking about progression through hardcore mode. If you've never played it, The Binding of Isaac is a game where you have one life (or at least a limited number of lives depending on
the items you get). If you die, you have to restart. What is really cool, though, is that during your play, you can unlock and upgrade things for future play-throughs. This is a an excellent mechanic to pair with a hardcore one-life style game. It gives me the feeling of progression even when I fail miserably.

Salt has a hardcore mode option that activates the perma-death mode. It can only be enabled/disabled when starting a new game. Once you do it, it's forever done for that save file (and for that save file only, so don't worry about your other ones). It also causes the frame of your health bar to turn black so that if you take any screenshots, people can instantly recognize that you are playing on hardcore mode.

Salt's hardcore mode is fairly basic, but I would like to eventually add a lot more depth to it. I think it would be cool if doing certain things in a hardcore game would unlock things for future hardcore games. For example, maybe defeating all of the named pirate bosses in a hardcore game would unlock a hardcore option that would make all pirates more difficult but drop better items.  We could add many different achievements and rewards within the hardcore game mode. This would add a lot of fun and intense replay-ability to the game while also offsetting the frustration of a lost game with some reward that you get to keep.

It will be important with such implementations that we make sure to not demean the normal (non-hardcore) game mode. There is something in my brain that makes me unhappy if I make a choice that limits my potential. A good example of this is an MMORPG with both first and third person view options. Even though playing in first-person is much more immersive to me, and I would enjoy it better if it were the only option, I can't bring myself to do it with the third person option available. It gives me the feeling of losing that potential since I have the option of a more advantageous view point. I end up playing in a way that is less fun to me even though the option is there.

I believe this same line of thinking would follow if we made a lot of content that was exclusive to hardcore mode. If I were playing the normal mode in Salt, and knew about this super awesome legendary ship of glory that was obtainable in Hardcore mode, but not in my game, it would lessen my experience. This is why I believe we have to be a little bit careful about the hardcore progression rewards when we design them.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the matter. Are you a fan of hardcore mode unlocks, and if so, what kind of hardcore trans-game rewards would you like to see in Salt?

- John Gamble (Lead Developer)

1 comment:

  1. While I'm a huge fan of Roguelikes and take dying as just another "oh well", when given the option i choose a lives system. If that isn't available then I tend to enjoy the RL's that have persistent content (Dungeonmans with it's Stremf bonuses, and the knowledge from other characters, Binding of Isaac for reasons explained in the post etc.). Having a game where you can make a ton of progress and then only to lose it upon death can really hurt, especially in a game that is still quite WIP like Salt is.

    I think for hardcore mode in Salt, it should be more focused on a more difficult experience with limited lives and doing certain things (killing a captain or finding certain loot in treasures for instance) could gain you more chances. Completing a huge goal could give you a permanent boost to stats, perhaps even world independent ones that affect all old and new characters.