By ahoodedfigure 71 Comments
I don't need games that are arbitrarily harder, but I like it when there are little requirements that make me feel like it's an actual game universe I'm visiting, and not just a colorful screen where I pull a lever and get pleasure pellets.
Maintenance in Games
When I heard that Fallout New Vegas was going to have a hard core mode with survivalist traits, I think that was the first time that I felt like this generation's big titles were actually aiming for old grognards like myself. But from what I've heard, it's not that intensive an increase in difficulty. Water is plentiful, is the example I usually hear. Still, I can't say I always like those sorts of requirements in games. The older Ultima games seem ridiculously sped up and my adventuring party a bit too ravenous. I remember fighting to fill their black hole stomachs, hurrying to steal food off tables just to stay alive. Kind of tedious, really.
In the Elder Scrolls, weapons have had durability. Even in Arena, the very first ES game, your weapons wore down over time requiring a visit to the blacksmith. Daggerfall continued the tradition, but in subsequent games fixing items actually felt LESS fun to me. The difference was that you could give a blacksmith in Arena a big pile of objects to repair, and then you could pick whether they would be done quickly, or cheaply. The more items you wanted fixed and the cheaper you wanted it, the longer it took. The more items and the quicker you wanted them, the more expensive it was. Those choices actually enhanced the experience for me somehow, that choice made it feel less like a stupid task and more like I was spending my ill-gotten gains for a nice convenience.
It all comes down to balance of course, but I DO like a certain amount of maintenance in my games. It helps separate adventuring time from reflective downtime a bit (though of all the RPGs I've played, I think Darklands still does downtime the best), and as long as it's not too much work I think it adds some flavor. I imagine if Skyrim has any maintenance requirements that they'll be minimal, but one of the nice things about recent Elder Scrolls games has been the simultaneous release of content creation tools, meaning that someone with enough time, resources, and knowledge can create some pretty epic mods.
I'm not sure if you could ever mod in hunger and sensitivity to cold using creator tools, but it doesn't hurt to hope. Below are some of the things I'd like to see in a Skyrim survival mode:
Since Morrowind, eating has been there to provide bonuses. One of the first items in Morrowind was a loaf of bread that restored stamina, a stat that recovered slowly in that game unless you slept. Potions and edible materials (no matter how gross you imagined they'd taste) would give you basic stat increases or penalties, but they were never really necessary. I guess I like the idea of slow hunger, perhaps represented by stamina drain. In the newer games, Stamina is something that comes back quickly, and is basically used during combat when you're zipping around doing fancy maneuvers, and possibly for running but I don't quite recall. It's used to show short-term exhaustion, but since it refills quickly enough it's not that big a deal. But say that over time it doesn't refill quite as quickly, and maybe its maximum is a bit lower, all until you sit down to a bowl of yeti stew.
When in the wild you might prepare food from animals and plants you find, or when in town you could order something from the local tavern, or buy stuff from the market and fix it yourself. It adds a bit to that downtime feeling I'm talking about, making it feel like there's a point to cities other than being a source of quests and gear.
Even tougher: When stamina bottoms out, restore it at a cost to health, and don't let stamina recover until you heal properly.
In Skyrim this seems especially appropriate to me. Like hunger it doesn't need to be too dramatic, but I like the idea that the cold will wear you down. Maybe in order to avoid freezing in a blizzard, you decide to hide in a nearby cave, which might reveal something to you that you wouldn't have otherwise noticed. Or it might force you to camp every once in a while, instead of walking for days on end with no apparent loss in composure. At the inns you can seek out fireplaces to warm up, or maybe hold your hands over a lit torch in the dungeon. Here I'm thinking of games like Cryostasis.
Even tougher: go ahead and make the cold deadly, and depending on what you're wearing and how cold it is around you, this could cause damage pretty quick. Makes sense given that Nords in this game don't have frost resistance like they did in earlier games. Let me emphasize: should be important what you're wearing. At least in survival mode, I want to be punished for running naked in the snow.
There may not be a durability mechanic in Skyrim, but when I talk about durability systems I more mean bringing back some of the ideas in Arena, where you can go to a blacksmith (or if skilled in smithing, do it yourself) and get all your gear repaired either quickly or cheaply. Assuming you spend the night in town, perhaps an apprentice will deliver the equipment to you in the morning (for a gold piece), so everything in the downtime portion of a game is centralized around that inn. If you do it yourself, time-lapse it like it does when you sleep. This could open up magical gear which has a self-recovering durability feature (extending this further you could have items that provide you with at least minor relief from certain conditions or diseases; buy an herbal kit that can heal a specific disease, rather than generic curing of all diseases), or gear that can't be repaired (like ethereal items in Diablo, but they don't need to be magical).
Even tougher: Make the expense for keeping your gear in working order a sliding scale. Make consistent repairs cheap, and make last-minute repairs so expensive that you might as well buy new stuff. This actually might not be a whole lot of fun, but it will add a bit of realism if that's what you want.
Freshly collected potion ingredients should be more potent. You should also be able to prepare ingredients to make them slightly less potent but last a long time, or keep them in treated pouches that slow down decomposition. Tangential to this, I think it might be cool that you don't just loot skins and meat off of your kills; the process should take a little time. I always thought it was weird that you could bash the hell out of a wolf and then loot the hide from it like it was carrying its own skin in a backpack.
Even tougher: Not that this sounds appealing to me, but: make stuff become useless if it's out too long.
In snowy regions this can be solved by just chomping on a little snow, but that will bring down your body temperature. Melting snow at a camp might be a better idea, or drinking ale or water at an inn if that's what's available. If there's ever a desert setting for an Elder Scrolls game this will make more sense, but NV had thirst despite the ubiquity of water so I don't see this as being too big a deal.
Even tougher: Perhaps certain creatures or traps can cause conditions like thirst to get worse, or even extensive bleeding when you've lost a lot of health. And this goes for Hunger, Durability, and Cold: let monsters cause damage conditions that make these survival things worse. Give the player a bit of lore ahead of time maybe, saying these creatures sap heat from their victims, so that players will be prepared with Warmbrew potions and plenty of furs.
Injuries and Crippling Wounds
I wouldn't want you to be stopped in your tracks, you might as well load at that point, but for those of us stubborn enough to suffer through minor inconveniences, the loss of use of an arm after getting your shield arm smacked by a dragon, or the reduction in speed due to a hit to the leg, would make surviving in time to get healed all the more rewarding.
Even tougher: Let disease creep in more often when you get hurt badly, and let natural healing either take longer, magical healing, or need a bit of the old-fashioned "surgery". Yeah, sounds masochistic, I know.
The Greatest Challenge of All: Convincing Anyone this Is a Decent Idea
A lot of these things can be play-acted, of course. I guess what I like is when the game actually confronts you with these obstacles to see if you can handle it, but doesn't do it so often that it becomes a game about feeding and clothing yourself ( Roman calling you on the cell phone all the time is an example of things maybe going too far). I figure it wouldn't be for everyone, so I'd more like it for the people who get a bit of a rush overcoming these sorts of challenges. It still comes down to balance, and it comes down to variation. Like with the blacksmith example, I think I liked Arena's system more because it wasn't just an obstacle, it felt like it had weight to it, like fixing my gear took a degree of effort that could be ameliorated with money or time, and that if I wanted I could skip it for a little longer, and THAT would be my way around the obstacle for the time being.
What these features would need is a way to figure out when it would be a good idea to bring them in. It might step away from the simulation aspect a bit, but having a "director" or "dungeon master" AI that decides when there's a lull in the game would help with that, inserting a hunger, thirst, or disease obstacle like older games might do random encounters, but do it in a way that only pops up if you happened to be walking a long, long way.
But hey, I don't think random encounters are necessarily a bad thing, so I know I'm not going with the popular sentiments on this! :)
Any games you care to mention with survival or maintenance elements that actually worked for you?