Hunt: Showdown and Encouraging Design

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LapsarianGiraff

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“Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game.” –Soren Johnson

A while ago, I posted a lengthy diatribe against Cyberpunk 2077. I had plenty of issues with it: the story didn’t resonate with me, the gameplay wore out its welcome before I had finished all of its quests, and I left feeling that the experience was empty—not just in the lack of thematic follow-through, but in the lack of meaningful interactions in Night City itself. One point that came out of the resulting discussion in the comments was that Cyberpunk is potentially more enjoyable if you play mostly the critical path, and don’t go out of your way to find all the side-quests in the world. However, the game encourages you, nay, pushes you to engage with this additional content, through the pushy text messages, through the “wait for this person to call” gaps in the main storyline giving you space to explore the world. Yet, once you do, you find some of the weakest content in the game.

So, this raised a fundamental question about game design—is there such a thing as playing a game wrong? And how much of that onus is on the player, or the developer?

To answer that question, let’s talk real quick about XCOM.

The Achilles Heel of Modern XCOM

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Make no mistake: the 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic game. At the time, it felt like a minor miracle for XCOM fans, especially in the wake of The Bureau, a misguided attempt to turn the XCOM universe into a third person squad-based shooter.

And! As someone who tried to get into the original game, but bounced off due to the overwhelming number of options and punishing difficulty, XCOM 2012 was perfect for me. Even just the UI and moment-to-moment combat was so streamlined, while retaining the essential difficulty and drama of the original. It was far less punishing—but it felt like XCOM any time you accidentally activated a pod of 4 Mutons or missed a 93% shot. This is not to mention the incredible meta-layer either, which smartly presents one new mechanic or consideration at a time, until eventually you’re juggling power, satellite capacity, research and upgrades, terror levels, and of course, money. In the best way, there was always a clear next step or thing you needed, and this combination of carrots and sticks made it very easy to just—keep—playing for hours on end. (For me, both the original and the expansion on PC and iPad.)

There was, however, a big issue, one that made itself more evident as a run would veer into the late game. This is far from an original observation, but as the player’s squad members got stronger and stronger, and the only way enemies could meet this upgraded firepower was with comically oversized health bars, XCOM got less interesting as it progressed. A Berserker is a melee only Muton with a big health bar. A Sectopod is a Chryssalid that does more damage and has more health. An Ethereal is a juiced up Sectoid that—again—has more health.

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On top of that, while levelling up individual soldiers created stronger attachments to those soldiers (and therefore more drama when they died,) it did also encourage a lot of players to hold on to their first six soldiers for dear life. They wouldn’t bring new recruits because, hey, you want to bring the best soldiers for the best chances of winning. Then, having only 6 sets of high-powered equipment is cheaper than keeping replacements on hand, which gives you more money for upgrades. BUT. Once you’ve committed to this playstyle, if more than one of your original soldiers dies, it’s almost crippling. On non Iron Man playthroughs, this encourages save-scumming (the practice of saving on every round and retrying it to get the perfect outcome).

Of course, this is a problem for new players, mostly. More experienced players (or Iron Man players) will know to take the financial hit and have a large pool of soldiers and equipment. Yet even the most skilled players (I think of watching a streamer called Tornis play Impossible Iron Man runs) run into issues of passivity. The best thing to do, without question, is to Overwatch five members of your squad and send one forward as a scout. Even better if you only activate one pod of enemies at a time. On the late-game longer alien ship levels, this is a curse, as you inch forward one movement distance (without dashing, mind you) at a time. This is an honestly boring way to play once your crew is levelled up; victory in combat is a tedious inevitability, rather than a precarious uncertainty.

So, XCOM is a great game, but it had this glaring flaw, and its designers noticed. So, when XCOM 2 was released in 2016, a change was implemented to encourage a different playstyle.

And people hated it.

Punishing vs. Encouraging Design

Note: I’m borrowing a fair bit of this section from the Game Maker’s Toolkit.

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In base XCOM 2, almost every mission has some kind of ticking clock. “Extract in 12 turns or everyone is captured!” “Destroy this object in 7 turns or the mission is lost!” “Enemy reinforcements will arrive in 2 turns!” It makes sense thematically, at least, as XCOM is now a resistance force on an Alien-occupied Earth. Personally, I really dug this. Like many players, I will chronically choose the least fun option or playstyle if it is the most efficient or materially rewarding in a game, and this change in XCOM 2 helped protect me from myself. Honestly, I loved the base game so much more than the original. I was taking risks and making insane plays that made for great stories, when before, I would just play as safely as possible. Even failing under this new system was fun, as one of my best snipers, the Papa Bear figure of the squad, stayed back to hold off the aliens as the rest of my squad evacuated. Many in-game hours later, I rescued him from a prison, but he had to readjust to an XCOM that had been forced to move on from him.

I’m apparently in the minority though, as most players hated the new time pressure. For players who enjoyed a safer playstyle, the timers felt like an unnecessary punishment for what they found fun. Jake Solomon in an interview mentioned that this change was implemented because, in his view, the best way to play XCOM is when you’re taking risks, and the timer was a brute force way to achieve this goal. But while it works to change the best way to play, unquestionably, it didn’t feel great for a lot of people. And “feel” is one of the most important aspects of game design.

Game Maker’s Toolkit brings up how the designers could have rewarded fast play, rather than punish slower play. What if you got extra resources for getting out of the mission quickly? What about a system similar to Enemy Within’s Meld caches that shut down after a couple of turns on the map? I haven’t played War of the Chosen yet, but I hear lots of good things about the changes they made.

Given a choice, I think most people would prefer being rewarded in a game instead of being punished. And Hunt: Showdown, Crytek’s cowboy battle royale-like, does this very, very well.

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The Mechanics of One Round in Hunt: Showdown

Since this February, I’ve been playing Hunt: Showdown near nonstop, at least a few times a week with a group of friends, and 100 hours in, I’m pretty sure this is a near-perfect game.

Hunt: Showdown is a 12 player PvPvE battle royale set in an alternate historical Louisiana, 1895, in which zombies and all kinds of other monsters have overrun the bayou. You (and up to 2 squad members) have to kill a monster on the map, and extract from the map with your bounty while other hunters vie to do the same. This is a neat concept, and just from screenshots you can see that the aesthetic of this game is dripping with style, but where Hunt excels most is in how the ruleset encourages players to play in the most exciting way, every round.

I sure hope you didn't drop at Military Base.
I sure hope you didn't drop at Military Base.

From the beginning, you’ll notice that Hunt lacks the usual “circle of death” that defines most battle royale games. Now, why that circle of death is there in say, PUBG, makes perfect sense. On such large maps with so many players, it’s necessary to funnel them all into the same space to force conflict. Much like XCOM 2’s turn timer, this works in a brute force way. People get smooshed together on the map, and players who refuse to stick to the game’s timing for too long will die as the circle damages them. However, there are a few unavoidable kinks in the system.

First, there is an element of randomness to the circle. Depending on where you dropped on the map and where the first or second circle spawns, you may spend a long time just running, searching for a vehicle, or driving. Or on the other hand, you may find yourself at the center of the circle, and just sit there for a few minutes. This is mitigated as there’s less space to cover, but it can severely impact a round. Second, the timer, combined with the loot drops, make success in the game mostly an arms race—whoever can get the best equipment before the final circles, either from looting houses or defeating other squads. Thirdly, if the Sacriel streams I watched were any indication, the circle of death could be circumvented with enough health items, so skilled players could get a long free looting period in the best areas of the map, simply by staying outside the radius longer.

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Hunt accomplishes the same consolidation of players with a different system—the clues and bounties. Since the primary goal of the game is not to be the last player standing, but simply to extract a bounty, players naturally congregate into the same areas without the need for such a strict boundary as “a circle that kills you if you’re not in it.” To find the boss, each squad has to find 3 clues (less if they accidentally stumble on the boss lair earlier), and each clue highlights a smaller area on the map to explore. Now, there’s still some randomness—I’ve definitely had games where my team spawns right next to a boss to begin with—but for reasons I’ll explain later, it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of each match nearly as much. Players also bring in their own loadouts, rather than starting unequipped and having to scrounge for items, so the experience is completely focused on “get the bounties and get out,” rather than the competing priorities of “kill guys, get into the circle, find new gear” of most battle royales.

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Of course, as the area you need to search shrinks, your likelihood of running into another squad increases, and Hunt goes to greater lengths than its battle royale peers to make this presence known. Sound plays a crucial role throughout the entire map, to the extent that parts of Hunt play like a light stealth game. It takes one of my favorite parts of PUBG—tracking other players—and creates more concrete ways to do so. There are ambient zombies and monsters lingering around compounds on the map, all of which will unavoidably make some noise as you draw their aggro and kill them, but you learn quickly there are louder and quieter ways to deal with NPCs. A gun shot is obviously the loudest way to deal with a zombie, but a knife, while the zombie will growl at you, takes them out much more discreetly. A silenced pistol or throwing knife before a zombie even notices you, though? You’re golden. But it’s not just monsters or gunshots that can give your presence away—the map itself is littered with sound hazards. Murders of crows sit on fences and wires, just waiting to fly up into the air cawing if you sprint too close to them, water fowl can be scared in a similar way. Then, within compounds themselves, there are micro cues that don’t reveal your position from 100 meters away, but can be fatal when two squads are occupying the same area—bits of broken glass on the ground, chains hanging from the ceiling that clink as you walk through them, empty cans that rattle as you walk over them. Different materials also create different levels of noise, so if you’re walking through water or on a metallic roof, you’ll make a lot more noise than crouching on dirt.

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Thanks to bounties, not player kills, being the objective, when you hear another squad nearby, it’s a much freer choice between sneaking away from those players or choosing to fight them. If you fight, you’ll find that Hunt is a tense, methodically paced shooter that rewards positioning more than split-second aiming (though it can come down to that, of course). Especially early on, weapons are slow-firing revolvers, repeaters, and bolt action rifles with high damage that reward landing your shots, but give players ample time to retreat and heal themselves if their opponent isn’t aggressive. The range of these older weapons also tends to create mostly mid-range engagements, as at close range, guns are less a guaranteed kill and more an opportunity for the enemy to pull out a knife and stab you (melee weapons are very effective in this game). Guns aside, Hunt is up there with CounterStrike for the utility of its tools and grenades. A swarm of bugs in a jar that chases and poisons the nearest player, Molotov cocktails, choke bombs that can put out fires and prevent the fuse on sticks of dynamite from being lit, trip mines that spring up barbed wire when activated—entire fights can be decided with smart item usage. In team fights, players can be revived multiple times, but an incapacitated player that has been set on fire will eventually be dead for good. With this combination of weapons, tools, and the increased emphasis on sounds during teamfights, every engagement is tense and rewarding.

This changes a bit as later weapons are unlocked, more modern-feeling arms such as semi-automatic shotguns, scoped rifles like the Mosin-Nagant that increase the range of an engagement substantially, or semi-automatic pistols like the Bornheim or Dolch, which take a lot of the tension out of gunfights and make “spraying and praying” a legitimate option. But, aside from that power creep, Hunt does an admirable job of making every weapon a viable option, and having very few, if any, straight-up bad options to bring into a firefight.

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Wisely, the bosses themselves are not difficult to kill, as they have a reasonable amount of health and simple attack patterns. The spider will crawl around on the walls and ceiling and leap to attack. The Butcher, a large monster wearing a pig head and butcher’s smock while waving a flaming hook, will chase and swipe at the players in a straight line, but Choke Bombs can put out the hook so he doesn’t set the player on fire. The Assassin darts around as a swarm of bugs before reforming as a solid foe to melee attack or ranged attack players. And the newest addition, Scrapbeak, is a scavenging crow monster that will throw down barbed wire to limit player movement while trying to melee attack the player.

Once the boss has been defeated, there’s a prolonged “banishing” period of a few minutes where the entire map can see that a boss has been defeated, where it is, and that you’re attempting to harvest its bounty. This naturally creates a “King of the Hill”-esque moment in the round, as the Banishing squad starts placing trip mines and bear traps at entrances to the compound (or maybe you want to ambush approaching squads from an unexpected angle further up?), and attacking squads attempt to siege the building. These fights are intense, as the defending squad has every motivation to stay in the same area, no matter how hard the fighting gets, and the attacking squad is motivated to defeat the defenders before they are done banishing the boss, because whoever picks up the bounty gets Dark Sight.

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Dark Sight, before banishing the boss, is essentially a detective vision that lets you see where clues are in the distance with a blue glow. But once you pick up a boss’ bounty, Dark Sight lets you also see where other players are for 5 seconds. Whoever has it possesses a large advantage in team fights, motivating players to kill a squad before they get their hands on, basically, sanctioned wall hacks. But once a bounty is picked up, the bearer has not only wall hacks, but a permanent mark on the map for every squad to see their general location.

Now, whether or not the squad with the bounty has won a fight, they have to get to one of three extraction points on the map and hold it for 30 uncontested seconds to leave. This gives other squads one last chance to catch them, as they can see where they’re headed by the bounty marker on the map. Having been on both the giving and receiving end of fights at extraction points, there are few things as thrilling as keeping your head down as bullets whiz by and the timer counts down, or downing a member of an enemy squad just as they’re about to escape. Truly devilish minds (my friend group has only pulled it off once) can place mines at the extraction and lay out an ambush ahead of time for an extracting squad.

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Sometimes, there are two bosses, and therefore two bounties on a map. This spreads the fighting out a bit, and can lead to some ho-hum rounds if every other squad decides to fight over a different bounty than the one you picked up, but that’s a rarity at higher levels, as people are much less “immersed” in just surviving, and more prone to get into fights. The one bounty maps can get hectic quickly, as I’ve had fights with four squads at once in one compound—and this is where positioning and maneuvering come to the forefront, as moving smartly can be the difference between squads fighting each other and two squads ganging up on you.

It’s understandable why some players want to play safely though—as harsh as the combat and stealth in Hunt are, it’s even harsher when you account for the fact that the game has permadeath.

Well, sort of.

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Individual characters and loadouts in Hunt are plentiful, yet disposable. If you die, your character, with all their perks and equipment, is gone forever. But, recruiting more hunters is cheap and infinite, as you can, even if you’re flat broke on in-game currency, recruit one free hunter for every round. The real expenses come in the form of later game weapons and items, which cost a lot more, creating more of a CounterStrike-esque economy (as Super Bunnyhop mentions) than an actual rogue-like permadeath. Once an item is unlocked, it can be purchased as many times as you can afford it. That being said, if there’s a fault I can take with the game, it’s the later game weapons and the implication of the menus that your character’s life is far more valuable than it actually is. It doesn’t help that the menus are pretty clunky to buy new equipment—you can’t save and buy your favorite loadouts at the press of a button, the best you can do is favorite anything you actually want to buy and scroll through that list instead. It just means that there’s an extra minute between rounds that’s unnecessary.

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Otherwise, though, I have no complaints with this game. It’s gorgeous, its aesthetic and world serve the gameplay and design, and it’s just a masterclass of objective design in multiplayer games in general. Maybe I’ve rambled too much, but in short: the design fluidly encourages players to come into conflict with each other, ambush each other, have tense standoffs with each other, in a way that no other battle royale does quite as effectively. Plus, it does all of this while keeping the player firmly in the driver’s seat and making them feel like they are being proactive in charge. The clues are a natural reward and motivation, the bosses and bounties are natural motivations, and the best rewards the player can get come from playing in a fun way, rather than punishing the player for not sticking to the pace the game demands. I haven’t even gotten to some of the more interesting monster types throughout the world, or how consistently the rules of items, monsters, and players interact with each other in an almost Breath of the Wild way.

If you like tactical shooters, multiplayer shooters, or are even mildly interested in what I’ve described here, I highly recommend checking out Hunt: Showdown. It’s really damn good.

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And did I mention gorgeous?

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Justin258

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How populated is this game? There's a lot to this game, from what I remember of it, and it all felt very niche and complicated, especially for a game of its type, a combination which usually leads to a low player count. But then, we live in a post Dark Souls era, where obtuse and complicated games often enough do find their place on a top shelf. Last I heard, this game was dying, but it seems to have been hanging on for long enough to pick up a reasonably-sized fanbase.

As for me... spoiler'd because I wasn't a huge fan of this game, although on paper it sounds rather brilliant and I don't want to shy people away from playing it if they think they might like it.

I tried it sometime in 2020 and quickly grew to dislike it. I also haven't played a Battle Royale game I genuinely like, but the extra pomp and circumstance of watching out for enemy players and finding clues and fighting bosses and playing king of the hill and so on and so forth really made me want a single player or co-op thing instead. Spending five, ten minutes wandering around, solving clues, trying to find the boss, doing the whole ritual only to die from an unseen assailant waiting in a bush fifty meters away didn't work for me. I understand the appeal on paper, but for my part I need the hyperactive minute-and-a-half rounds of Counter-Strike, or the slightly slower Siege, or just the "respawning before you realized you died" of CoD or Halo.

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LapsarianGiraff

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#2  Edited By LapsarianGiraff

@justin258: It's had a renaissance! With the Scrapbeak update and event, they hit a new peak of 32,000 concurrent players, and just looking now, there are 15,000 playing. I think the playerbase is only going to grow from here.

I totally get it, the 45 minute rounds is a big time sink, and even a shorter round is long. Personally? I love the objectives, because they give every round a distinct pacing, and that pacing makes it easier to play for longer times than a CoD or Counter-Strike, though I love those too. There's the slow bits where you can chat with your friends, though you're still aware of the sound you're making, then there's a climax of a gun fight, and then a short denouement extracting. There's a quick play mode, but I don't like it very much.

It also means there's more ways to "win." Unlike a CS where it's kill or be killed, you can totally play without meeting a single other player if you're quick and stealthy enough. Or, if other people reach the bounties first and you don't want to risk your higher level character, you can extract and still get some XP for the work you did. It's a harsh game, sure, but it's also surprisingly generous in that way.

Kind of like PUBG though, you can invite a faster playstyle by making more noise. The other players will find you. :P 100+ hours in, my friends and I will sometimes say, "let's rush combat this round," and sprint towards a spawn point on the map to get into a gunfight in the first 5 minutes.

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Kingloo

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Speaking as a card-carrying member of the "hated it"s, all the things you refer to as flaws in X:EU, I call strengths. I can play the "designer's way", if I want to. Or I can fall back to overwatchmania, if I want to. I can choose to accept a character death, if I want to. Or save scum them back, because it looked like I would have line of sight from that cover but the game doesn't tell you and dammit that muton walked round it and killed me!

XCom 2 went way off the rails trying to nerf overwatch. When the right way to play your sniper class is to not use the sniper rifle, you have fucked up.

Doom 2016 to Doom Eternal is another example of this design (d)evolution. In a NoClip interview with Hugo Martin a few weeks before the release of Eternal, the way he described the game made me worried that they had "XCom 2'ed" it. Based on the response to that game, my hunch was correct.

In both cases, you could play the previous game several different ways. Then for the sequel, the designers anointed one "correct" way to play and went to great lengths to remove all other options. If you happen to agree with what they chose, great, you probably love those games. For everyone else its "sorry tough fuck you. You liked the wrong one so you're not allowed to have fun any more".

It is *not* a designer's place to tell me what I think is fun.

I hesitate to call it bad design. I would say it's effective design in that it accomplishes their objective, I just think its an objective they should not have had.

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LapsarianGiraff

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#4  Edited By LapsarianGiraff

@kingloo: In the case of Doom Eternal, I agree completely. That game tacks on too many restrictions to solve a problem I didn't personally have with it. XCOM 2 only differed in that I liked the forced playstyle, but I totally get why people hated it.

It's usually a lot better for players to be rewarded for playing in ways the designer think is fun than to be punished for not doing that.

Talking about XCOM 1 specifically, that game just becomes a grind for me in the last 10 hours of the run, every time. When my infrastructure is set, my gear is maxed out, and I feel like my squad is too powerful, and the enemy pods don't feel tactical anymore, but like one DPS check after another. But hey! To each their own.

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Hunt is just one of those games that generates story after story, especially when playing with friends. The aesthetics and mechanics are so strong and compliment each other so well that it really just doesn't get old, even after hundreds of hours. And there are only two maps!

The map design is another standout part of the game. All of the locations on the map have a lot of personality and are fun to fight in. Going to Scupper Lake or Port Reeker will make a squad think twice if they are low on resources whether they have just found the boss or are challenging another team.

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#6  Edited By CptBedlam

Great write-up!

I have considered getting this game since it's early EarlyAccess stages because I love the look and the concept. Haven't pulled the trigger because I can't find a coop buddy among my friends ("PC specs are too weak" and/or "I only play on console" while I would preferably get this for PC). :(

This reinvigorates my interest, however. I'm gonna share this post with a couple of friends. :)

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I almost bought it on Xbox the other day but the reviews made it seem like the player base is basically non-existent.

If anyone here plays on Xbox and can confirm that I'd appreciate it. I don't want to spend money on it and learn the hard way.

Definitely seems like a fun game though if you can cobble together the right crew to play it with.

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piano_dentist

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#8  Edited By piano_dentist

Nice writeup.

Hunt: Showdown is an extremely underrated game and deserves to be a lot bigger than it is. Either with friends, matchmaking with randoms or playing solo, it's so much fun, and all three of those ways to play is such a different experience. It's the best one of those.

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LapsarianGiraff

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#9  Edited By LapsarianGiraff

@cptbedlam: Thanks! Yes, this is a game that is best played with friends when you're new. You can have a good time solo, but it will be an uphill battle as matchmakers (I hear) don't tend to play with new people, and alone can be done but you're literally fighting 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 battles.

@mr_guffman: Thank you! This game is incredibly underrated, and it's been pretty nice hearing people say that this piques their interest. Sadly, this is the most commented Hunt thread on GB : ( I'm just glad that the playerbase has bounced back recently so I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

@big_denim I know very little about the Xbox playerbase, but I'm sure the folks in r/HuntShowdown are more knowledgeable than I on that.

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I found this blog interesting because I could understand every reason why you liked these games and design decisions, and yet reading it just made me not want to play these games, including XCOM 2, which is a game that previously seemed appealing.

I think that there's a fundamental problem in game design when you can talk about "save scumming" and think that it's actually a problem. Why is it a problem? If people enjoy saving after every turn and exploring their options, then going back and trying something different, that's not actually a bad thing. It's just a thing.

There is a problem when your game is meant to be tactically open but actually just narrows to one most efficient tactical path, and that problem is compounded when that narrow tactical path is not actually fun, but I think that responding by punishing that path with an artificial limit is about the worst design choice you can make there. How about trying to buff the other tactical options so they're more fun and viable, rather than nerfing the one people are using, which they're presumably using because it's their favorite way to play the game, even if you don't think it's the way the game should be played.

I hate paternalistic game design. I hate it when game designers are so married to their own personal vision (this game has to be super hard so we can't buff other tactical options) that they see a way their player base is engaging with the game they made and their response is not to try to gently guide them towards other things but to punish them, like a parent who sees a kid having more fun with the cardboard box than their new toy and responds by taking away the box (which doesn't actually make the toy any more fun or appealing.)

This post helped me crystalize why I so often don't like stealth games, or 'hard' games, or even competitive multiplayer games. Those are all 'genres' that one way or another tend to have a 'right' way to play. They all punish players for trying different tactics and ideas that are less than ruthlessly efficient. I hate that. It's especially frustrating when the game includes a bunch of mechanics or items or whatever that seem like they might be fun (or even ARE fun) but then effectively takes them away because they're not as useful as other mechanics or items or whatever. This can range from stealth games that instant fail you if you don't find the right route and show the patience that the designers want to something like Call of Duty where the optimal way to play is to run certain routes or camp certain spots and if you don't do that you're likely to make your team less likely to win.

It's like going to recess in a big playground but only being allowed to use the monkey bars and having someone stand there with a timer demanding that you get across as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fun.

Hunt: Showdown seems to have some good design decisions that at least give you tactical options and some different play options, which is impressive and makes it better designed than a lot of these multiplayer games that only have one or two effective ways to play, but according to your description it still has a lot of elements of this, because your play style will often be dictated by the other team and their decisions and abilities. That's not bad design, since multiplayer games are naturally going to have issues around efficiency and other players dictating what you have to do, but it's just not something I personally enjoy.

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#11  Edited By asiemko

@lapsariangiraff thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for this superbly written post. I fell in love with this game as it was just coming out of early access back in 2018 and little did I know it would become my number one played steam game, by far - 525 or so hours at the time of writing. I agree that it is one of the best designed games out there and I feel like I learn something new every time I play it. There is so much choice and so much balance. I have so much fun going in with a friend, random players or even just going in alone as a challenge. All are viable.

I don't need to repeat what you and everyone else here has said, but I really just wanted to thank you for spreading the word. Between a good friend of mine and myself I think we've gifted 10 or so copies of this game because we just want the community to grow! This game is stronger than it has ever been and every update makes it even stronger--player base is all time high, like you said, and a new map is on it's way!

The only thing I lament and miss is the strong visual identity this game had in early access--the maps were darker and things were a tad bit slower, and the visual fidelity, if you can imagine, was even higher than where it is now. I really hope they can bring that back in a limited time mode, some kind of 'dark of the night' event and really make those headlamps and lanterns viable again!

Anyway, I digress thanks again for spreading the word and perhaps we'll see you and some of the other newly converted in the Bayou!

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HeelBill

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Was into this game hardcore for a few weeks a year or two a game. It's one I always feel like I should go back to if I can convince someone to play with me again.

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captain_max707

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@bigsocrates: One of the best things about Hunt is the freedom you are given in how you approach the game, and the design accentuates this freedom rather try to force you down a specific playstyle. It's one of the most freeform competitive shooters out there (which admittedly can drive some people away). Different weapons provide vastly different means of play: sniping, running and gunning with dual revolvers, sneaking around with melee weapons or crossbows, aggressive pushing with shotguns, midrange slugfests with breach loading rifles -- the list of fun and powerful styles is quite long. And the the ability to extract whenever means you can adjust your goals on the fly as you need to. Want to hop in, fight some zombies and leave to grind a character? Go for it. Want to try to kill every squad in the server and claim all the bosses for yourself? Or need to extract early after a tough fight? Up to you. There's very little hand holding in Hunt, but many incentives to try different approaches.

The only way enemies really have any bearing on how you play is how you react to their decision making, which is left completely up to you.

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LapsarianGiraff

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@asiemko: Thanks, man! I agree it'd be nice to have more night maps again, if only for more opportunities to see that Cryengine's beautiful dynamic lighting.

Heck yeah I'll see you out there! My Steam username's the same as my GB username, so if you see a suicidal bayonet rush by a Plague Doctor by the same name, well....

@bigsocrates: It's been really fascinating talking about design with you these past couple of weeks on the forums, because we agree on a lot but end up talking about it very differently. In the case of XCOM 2, I totally agree, for the majority of players, the turn timer was an inelegant solution that broke the way they wanted to play. While I acknowledge that it worked out really well for my specific needs and playstyle, if I were say, on a turn-based strategy game project and had to come up with a solution to the same problem professionally... then no, I'd do something different than the turn timer.

I do think the save scumming is a problem, not in terms of wanting to limit people's options, but in the sense that I think "if your game is designed in such a way your players feel the need to save over and over, inch by inch, you aren't making failure viable or fun enough." So yeah, I agree, players should have the freedom to play a game however they want, but if such an overwhelming majority want to play in a way that ignores half the outcomes or tools in the arsenal... that's a problem. Not with the player, but with the design of the game.

All game design is cajoling in one way or another, we only call it paternalistic or didactic when those mechanisms are too crude, or a far too obvious external limitation. (Think the chant-blockers in Oddworld: Soulstorm or the purple goo in Doom: Eternal -- like, oh, okay, thanks designer, you thought it'd be "interesting" to remove a core verb in this section without thinking if it'd actually be fun.)

As for Hunt itself, I'm glad you picked up on the fact that I think it's the opposite of XCOM 2's design -- it always encourages rather than punishes behavior. I would push back a little bit on the idea that other people's playstyles affect you too much, because for every action another player takes, there are several possible reactions. Guys holed up in a compound banishing a bounty, and they just refuse to come outside and engage you because they want an ambush? You can throw in a bug bomb, listen to where the bugs went, and now know where a guy is and push with that knowledge. You can flashbang and breach, or throw in a ton of explosives. You can put barbed wire at the entrances (or trigger the barbed wire mines they likely put up as defenses) to trap them in the building and punish their passivity. Or maybe just set up an ambush of your own outside the building? Or cut off their nearest extraction and force them to take a longer route through the map.

Yes, you need to respond to what a player is doing, but you have lots of options to do so in the way you want. Hunt's also great about not having a "meta" because all the guns are equally effective for the most part, and most perks just unlock new tools to use rather than become "must-haves". A level 20 guy and a level 100 guy are on pretty equal footing, or at least equal-er footing than your average Call of Duty.

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bigsocrates

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@captain_max707: I understand that there is tactical freedom in the game, and I applaud the developers for that, but competitive multiplayer games circumscribe what you can or at least should be doing just because you are playing with other people.

I said before that it's unreasonable for the teacher to yell at kids for playing with the wrong piece of equipment during recess, but if you're playing a competitive sport like baseball then it's quite reasonable to demand that the kids follow the rules and try to focus on the objectives rather than running backwards around the bases or just having a catch, so that everyone can do the activity they all agreed to do.

I totally understand that Hunt: Showdown grants you tactical options on how to respond to this stuff, but if you don't want to be a jerk you still have to follow the strategies your squad decides on and there are naturally going to be more efficient strategies than others. Playing against humans is limiting in the same way that playing on the highest difficulty is in that even if there are multiple efficient tactical choices, you really can't just goof off, or only do the stuff that you think is fun and ignore whole systems, because the other side will exploit the more efficient mechanics and you'll just lose a lot.

It's not a problem with Hunt, it's just an issue I have with mutliplayer competitive games. Rainbow Six: Siege similarly has a ton of different tactical options that you can use and is very open for a multiplayer game but I don't really enjoy it because I don't like trying to find and exploit the most efficient tactics. It's just not how I enjoy games.

@lapsariangiraff: I agree that save scumming is a problem insofar as your design is pushing people too far into it, but what I meant was that I don't think it's an issue at all if your game allows it and if people are having fun with it. It's a totally legitimate way to play a game. The vast majority of us have used emulator save states and the like to "save scum" old games and enjoyed them more that way than with their original save systems, and there's no reason that modern games should lock people out of that stuff. If your game is making people unhappy enough that they feel they all need to constantly save and rewind then you're probably doing something wrong, but if it's just open enough that they're having fun messing around in small chunks then it's not inherently problematic. And regardless, the goal should be to design so that people don't want to save scum because playing without it is fun or engaging, rather than locking them out of the practice or making it inefficient.

Obviously games need to guide the player in some way, and taking away certain tactics to get people to try other ones is a totally valid method of mixing things up and encouraging people to experiment and get outside their comfort zone. What's paternalistic to me is when designers see people playing a game in some way other than what they intended and enjoying doing so and decide to take that away for the whole game because they personally don't like it. Xcom is a bit more complex because overwatch and creep along really isn't a fun way to play that game, but it also means you have a lot more options to get people to change things up than just nerfing the thing they feel like is better than all your alternatives. I just feel like far too many game designers can be like moody auteurs who are angry that the masses don't appreciate their special vision, rather than trying to collaborate with the player base, even though game design is necessarily collaborative because more than any other art form games need players to really work. A game doesn't even really exist as a game until it is played. It's just a set of rules and assets waiting around for input.

I also think that the "remove a verb" stuff you're talking about works much better in optional content than in core content. I know that as a player that's not an important distinction for you personally, but for me I'm much more likely to engage with something frustrating if I don't actually feel like I have to do it, and if I can come back to it when I'm in the mood. Making it progression blocking is just infuriating. It's a slightly different version of something I ran into while playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss this week. There's a part of the game where you have to hold the Vita up to a bright light to progress. That's very simple, but...it's on a handheld! What if someone is playing it on a plane when the lights are off so others can sleep? Or on a bus where they can't get up and go to a light source? Or in bed while someone else is asleep next to them? Game design should be generous, not self-indulgent. The same can be said for games that demand you play them the specific way the designers want you to or not at all. It's the same mindset as the designer who thought "what happens if someone wants to play this game in bed next to their spouse and they get to this point? They get out of bed, wake their spouse up, or stop playing for the night. Screw them! I want to show off this feature of the Vita!"

Getting back to Hunt, I understand the tactical variety as you've set it out and I'm again not criticizing the game. Basketball is an incredibly tactically complicated sport, and while it has rules they are pretty broad and open ended, but in the end people end up using a certain number of tactics and running certain combinations of players because it's what's effective. There's nothing stopping you from putting 5 7 footers on the court, but nobody does it because it wouldn't work. Even the best multiplayer games are like that. You might have 5 different core tactical options that all work but there's always some kind of meta because players learn over time what mechanics are most effective. And you won't have fun if you just try to do engage with the mechanics you like and ignore the others (like not thinking about stealth at all) because other players will take advantage. It's not a design flaw in any way, it's just not my thing for the most part. The game sounds cool though.

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LapsarianGiraff

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#16  Edited By LapsarianGiraff

@bigsocrates: Yeah, I was never advocating for getting rid of game states, ha. And I agree with everything you said about design, though there's a part of me that wants to ask, "what game designer hurt you?" Did Uncharted wake up your spouse? :P

Not trying to be a stickler about Hunt or multiplayer games in general, (and I don't think you're ragging on it, either,) but it's been around for a few years, and there's still no "one perfect way to play" that has permeated the playerbase. I agree that lots of multiplayer games get stale and devolve into "the best way to play or you won't have fun because you get obliterated," but Hunt is genuinely not one of them. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it's true. My crew and I have plenty of fun just winging it and engaging with the mechanics on their own terms. A weapon available at level 1 can easily defeat the strongest weapons unlocked at level 90. No one after a game yells, "dude why'd you throw a consumable, that's not meta, you threw so hard!" Unlike meta swamps like League, Dota, or Dead by Daylight.

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bigsocrates

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@lapsariangiraff: What game designer hurt me?

Friend...I. Played. Knack. To completion! Hurt is an understatement.*

I understand that there are a number of ways to play Hunt effectively, which is why I compared it to basketball, a sport where there are a number of ways to effectively structure your team, your defense, and individual plays.

I think what it comes down to is that in competitive multiplayer games you generally can't goof around, you can't pause, and whatever you're doing can always be interrupted and redirected. Those aren't flaws in any way, but they aren't things I like. It's not so much that I think from your description or my time with somewhat analogous games that the game channels you into specific roles like some games do, more that just the very act of trying to play as well and efficiently as possible is not generally fun to me, and if you don't do that you're kind of letting your team down. It's why I've pretty much stopped playing competitive multiplayer. The original Titanfall was the last competitive multiplayer game I really got into.

*Actually I sort of enjoyed Knack in a "this thing is totally bonkers what were they thinking?" way.

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LapsarianGiraff

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@bigsocrates: Fair enough! And Titanfall 1 was a surprisingly fun casual experience for a while, chiller than a lot of multiplayer shooters.

Until the community downloaded exactly how to play running around with smart pistols and shotguns, lol.

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dijidiji

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I really like a lot of things about Hunt but I wish I could consume in a form that wasn't a battle royale! Playing a game for 20+ minutes only to annihilated out of nowhere really puts a damper on fun for me, which I why I avoid the genre. The atmosphere is so good, though, and with pacing of the way you creep around, the way the guns handle, it feels like in an alternate universe it could have come out as a co-operative shooter. Know what I mean?

As an aside, since you mentioned power creep in both XCOM and Hunt, what is it with games getting less fun as you progress? There's got to be a bunch of games I would have enjoyed more if they just stopped progression at some point and figure out ways of making that plateau interesting. Maybe that's just a really hard thing to do with game design.

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LapsarianGiraff

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@dijidiji: Fun fact, Hunt was originally going to be Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, as a PvE 4 player co-op third person shooter. So the desire for co-op in this setting makes sense, ha. The early footage looks just as pretty as the game ended up being, but the actual gameplay there is pretty rough. Very bullet sponge-y enemies to compensate for 4 players running around, as opposed to the final game, where every monster can be killed in 1-2 hits if you have the right weapon. (The only possible exception being the Meathead, which can be killed with one explosive but you need to use an explosive to get him down quick.)

In the case of XCOM, I genuinely think it's a problem with creating interesting problems to solve with the new power level, things you couldn't do before which you can now. Just having bigger health bars on every enemy who powers up to do a big damage attack, turning every encounter into a DPS check (defeat the Sectopod before it fires -- or else!) is boring. And it encourages that super passive playstyle of keeping 5 guys on Overwatch because you want every possible gun firing per round to succeed those DPS checks.

I agree that a lot more games would be more interesting if the power "cap" put you in a position where you still had to engage with the core gameplay to the same degree you did before. I understand the impulse to give players a fun "haha, you can just wreck everything!" moment or two near the end, but when it lasts for longer than a couple of hours, it's just not very fun anymore.

In short, it's not really a question of power -- that's what comes up when a designer has failed to make the enemies as engaging throughout. It's a continual question of player verbs and whether there are interesting problems to solve with those player verbs. I might update this later with a list of games I think do pretty well at this.

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dijidiji

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Interesting to hear about the previous plan for Hunt, I didn't know that! I think I'd still play the battle royale if it was on game pass because there would be loads more people to match with.

I agree that a lot more games would be more interesting if the power "cap" put you in a position where you still had to engage with the core gameplay to the same degree you did before. I understand the impulse to give players a fun "haha, you can just wreck everything!" moment or two near the end, but when it lasts for longer than a couple of hours, it's just not very fun anymore.

This makes me think of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I played through on the hard difficulty which started out very challenging for me (perhaps too much so for the first boss fight).

Throughout that game, as I levelled up and got more abilities, the difficulty stayed in my sweet spot. Near the end of the game, though, I decided to go back and collect every power and max it out. This ended up making the final section of the game a complete breeze but for me it was kind of welcome, that feeling of being an absolute machine being a reward for getting 100%. I can't help but think that had I been setting out to get and upgrade everything from the start, the challenge wouldn't have been as present and the reward of becoming godlike would be diminished.

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Great analysis of design "upgrades" that get miss the mark.

Overwatch was never in the original X-COM so nerfing it shouldn't have hurt as much.

Hunt: Showdown might be a candidate for Jeff B.'s multiplayer group but then again he characterized them as dumb-dumbs.