Levelling up the Player instead

Listening to: Sufjan Stevens – Inaugural Pop Music for Jane Margaret Byrne
via FoxyTunes

It’s funny how good level design in a game works.  I’ve noticed it in quite a few places, and oddly enough, it’s more apparent (in a good way) in games like Clarence’s Big Chance and Limbo.  The difficulty increases, and one finds oneself as the player levelling up, so to speak, instead of the character doing so.

Think of the Legend of Zelda games as opposed to Eye of the Beholder, Bard’s Tale, or Final Fantasy.  Those characters have a more traditional system of getting stronger.  They have stats tables and all that good stuff.  The game increases in difficulty by numbers.  But in the Legend of Zelda, Link never really got any stronger, aside from an increasing health bar.  And even that, a lot of players would intentionally leave short, to get an extra challenge.

In LoZ, the levels increase in difficulty the way that any good platformer should.  You get more items as you go in, paving the way for more complicated puzzles, whether the designers took advantage of this or not, but enemies never really get easier to kill.  If you can’t get past a certain point, you just have to get smarter at the game.

This can be massively frustrating, which is why older gamers remember games as being harder than games today.  On the one hand, games are generally more forgiving than they used to be, but they’re also made differently.  The systems have another setup than they used to.  The lives system should and mostly has gone.

None of this is necessarily good or bad, but it’s very interesting to play a game that levels up the player instead of the character, and then start the game over, and keep in mind how hard it was at the start.  At least, where the first hard part was, and see how the difficulty seems to have scaled down.  You got smarter at the game, developed reflexes specific to it.

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