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Monday, 24 March 2014

How to Create a Replayable Videogame

There is no secret that the gap between AAA and Indie titles is getting bigger and bigger. The video games with the most incredible budgets achieve greater audio-visual experience, but unfortunately its gameplay and story can run dry after few hours. On the other hand there are plenty of small pieces of art created by small teams that provide hours and hours of entertainment.

How is that possible?

There can be some explanations. Some could say that large video game companies are not really interested in long titles, people will not buy Assassins Creed 3 if they are still playing Assassins Creed 2. Others would say that they simply cannot, their game will not be successful as the mainstream public don't care about this kind of things.

But many people care about replayability, mainly Indie Developers.

Or so it was until now...

Ken Levine, proud creator of the Bioshock saga, gave a very interesting speech in the previous GDC. In his own words, "The problem with narrative is that you sort of have to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. That gets time consuming. That gets expensive. And you're devoting years and years of your life to this one sort of big moment". He also said that "You ship the game, and it comes out, and people play the game and it's 12 hours long and people have a great experience and you see cosplayers and fans for years like that, but you don't have that constant engagement with the audience."

Ken's games are recognized for its oriniginality. They are also awesome.

The problem he points out is that games have been "moviefied". Games stories are kept secret until the premiere. They need to protect that only and single story because it is the heart and soul of the product. If it gets filtered, you are done. Very often movies that came out of video games have just been big fiascos, it is normal to expect that happens the other way around. 

Video games are not books, video games are much more.

So then he talked about the philosophy of his new projects, something I find very interesting. He calls the idea "Narrative Legos". There is no longer a linear story, but a much more open and realistic way of doing the things. The different pieces come together as the story progresses and everything is influenced by the decisions of the player.

This match with the recent trend of "Story telling" video games. "Story telling" video games are born of the idea that it doesn't matter the kind of game you are playing, it has to tell a meaningful story as a channel to provide strong feelings to the players. That is why games like Left 4 Dead 2 are so inmersive. It is not about healing your team mate to complete the level. It is about deciding if it is worth the risk or you should abandon your friend to die, with tears in your eyes.

Dramatic moments are a powerful source of emotions. So are zombies.

Interesting decisions and consequences to my actions. That is all I want as a player. Imagination makes the rest.

That is cool, but I still haven't said to much about replayability...

So, we have a different story every time, but the game still needs more changes. Let's see what we can do:

- Different world: procedurally generated terrains and levels, random events, or cities.
- Different NPCs: randomly generated people that populates every unique world. Different names, appearances and behaviours that leave mark in the memory of the player.
- Different gameplay styles: giving the player more than one way of beating the levels or quests. Multiple scenarios that you can alternate to avoid repetitive plays.
- Different characters: totally different protagonists with different backgrounds, abilities and motivations. The path that follow every player can have similar obstacles, but the destination has to be different. That's whats matters.

Settlers of Catan island changes every replay. If a board game can do it...

You can either do all your things yourself, or allow the community to participate in the creation. People love to build stuff and show the world their creations.

But at the end of the day the only things that matter are:

 Unique Experiences.

Link to the source: Eurogamer


  1. I think one of the best replayable games are Souls saga (Demon Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II). They present a challenge for the player. His trophies invite replay it. There are no default route, each player choose how and where advances in the game. And above all, provide hours and hours of entertainment.

    1. I keep reading good things about the Souls saga. Maybe is regarding a very innovative type of narrative.
      I will definitively give it a try, thanks! =)