Player feedback loops to enhance gameplay

Purple Gryphon

Cyber Bioengineer
Havoc And Malice
Cat Adopter
Eternal Champion
Feb 24, 2018
Preface: I started this many years ago around the time SK was going to release the X-Men game so most of the references are from older games and I tried to adapt it as much to Deadhaus as I could. Also sorry for the very long post. Hope it is worth your while reading.

An essay on using passive feedback loops and breaking the fourth wall to create more personal and dynamic stories along with more adaptive difficulty scaling.

Like all gamers, I feel that I could be a game designer and have the next big idea in gaming. You all are also the most talented professional game developers I know (don't let the fact that you are also the only ones I have actual access to diminish my compliment :D ). As you know, I have never developed a game and have never been told why things can't be this way or that way so please forgive my ignorance. I am sure this will call for complex programming and planning but I think the benefits could make for a more interactive gaming experience and help to bring about meaningful choice in gaming. I can only hope that my inquiries can spark a real idea for you all to implement in Deadhaus or one of your games because I would love to see this implemented in a game.

I know that the concept of using passive feedback loops is not a new concept to SK (Apocalypse) as you have done it in your games, but I think it could be pushed to a new level and really move closer to what videogames are supposed to be, interactive. Currently, games pose players with a problem and they try to solve it but no game I have played has ever really responded to what a gamer does outside of the one instance or a particular story ark. But why can't a game evaluate an individual player and then respond appropriately to them based on past choices during a level or preferable throughout the whole game? (Games have gotten a little better at this and Cyberpunk claims to really do this which is exciting)

Listening to your world building stream also made me pretty excited about being able to see world changes that are affected by players and even items that may acknowledge players achievements.

Passive feedback based on player performance was in Too Human. If you were doing well, then the enemies would drop more money than health and as your health went down your chance of getting health increased proportionally. It was a great design idea and many gamers might have missed it as I have seen a lot of people complain about the lack of health in the game. Only people who followed the dev diaries or were very perceptive would have gotten that relationship.

One of the best and simplest examples of this is in God of War. The game tracks how many times you die in a certain section. If you die enough the game will ask you if you want to lower the difficulty or continue on the same level. It is a simple thing but most brilliant ideas are. The game saw that you were struggling by tracking your deaths (passive feedback loop) and gave you an option to continue with less difficulty (breaking the fourth wall in a limited way). As a competitive gamer, you now see the game as not just challenging you as a random person playing it. This becomes a personal question posed to YOU at this specific time because YOU are getting beat by the game. Now YOU must decide to fight harder or accept defeat.

I know you are planning mechanics in the game that would allow the community to alter the challenge of the game in real time but many people will be playing at odd hours or want just a single player experience who could benefit from these mechanics.

Mass Effect is an example of a game that had a great story that was supposed to be interwoven but fell short. No matter the result of one story arc the others were available to you in the same way (with probably a few exceptions and actions in 1 that did carry over to 2 or 3).

For example, they could have done better with the Alliance missions from Gen. Hackett. It did not matter if you took the missions or not or if you did what the Alliance wanted in the previous missions, when you entered a new star system you would get the Alliance mission for the area. But if you had a worker that constantly did not do assignments or did them wrong you would fire them, not keep asking them to help. At the very least, Hackett's attitude when asking you to do a mission should be different depending on the outcome of previous assignments.

It would have been cool if they made it so if you had three open Alliance missions and entered a new system Hackett would contact you and said we have a mission in this area but you have not done the previous 3, if you take it you need to do it now or I am going to send someone else. Then a timer starts and if you leave the area or do X number of other missions the mission disappears. Maybe you refused to take the previous 3 missions he could say this is the last mission I will offer you if you refuse to take it, I will not contact you in the future with other assignments. I think you get the idea.

I have kind of worked out a formula that I think could work to make this an easier idea to implement. Let's say for every 15 to 20 minutes of forward progress you should have a significant or tracked event that can have varying outcomes. (This could be adjusted obviously to match the pace of the game).

So how would this work in a battle scenario? One of the typical things you see in games is a battle/challenge room/area. You have x number of enemies to beat before you can leave the room and some even have a specific time limit. But the success or failure of this event may or may not have impacts beyond the event itself.

Here is an example of how this system can work to make this more interesting for a player.

Let's start with the easiest example, the struggling player. Some games have done similar things. But the important thing is that the game shows that it knows what a player is doing. They have now failed to clear the section in 6 tries. Before the 7th they get contacted by their guild or dungeon master etc and are given some options by her.

1) They can continue at the same difficulty level with no help.

2) They can continue with temporary help.
  • Maybe an NPC character joins for that battle and helps to clear the mobs.
  • If it is a timed event, the timer could increase.
  • They can get a list of other players that are in the area and they can ask for help and if the player joins they will get a bonus perk for helping.

3) They can lower the difficulty for the rest of the level or game.

4) They can lower the difficulty of just that section and get a lower reward.

Now the successful player. Well, we have to look at success and dominance as separate outcomes. To elaborate on the scenario a bit more let's say that the player has been spotted and the guards do a little cutscene that says we found him and they push the alarm to close the area and also call for backup.

What usually happens here is that the player fights the enemies and when they kill X number the doors open and he is free to continue or the backup rush in. Now let us add a passive feedback timer that evaluates the player's performance (could be displayed or hidden). Let's say the average player should beat the room in under 2 minutes and a good player in less than 1:30.

1) The player takes more than 2 minutes to beat the room. The game plays out normally and when they beat the last guy then the back-up guards enter. Another option is that they could just storm the room at the 2-minute mark and probably overwhelm you because you can't handle that many enemies at one time if you are still struggling with the first group.

2) The player that beats it between 1:30 and 2 minutes. A magic item or your companion cat pipes in "great job but the backup will be here soon you will have to fight your way out." End cutscene nothing happens for X seconds so you can heal/loot/etc then the guards enter and remark about players' skill level (Look what he did to Phil. Let's get him!) and charge in or maybe some get the hint and run away.

3) The player beats it in under 1:30. Inner monologue says wow you are getting really strong. You wiped the floor with them, maybe you should try to escape before more guards come or let's fight it out. Now the player has a decision to make that gives them a new branch to explore.

a) The player stays and fights. This works if you have a morality system or some kind of reward for certain actions. Maybe it is just a chance for more XP or higher loot tiers. Just guessing as I don’t know enough about Deadhaus mechanics. Maybe the reward changes as it aligns to the quest givers wishes. The quest giver might want stealth and you slaying everyone turns them off or visa versa.

First battle, the guards arrive and survey the damage done and then they fight anyway.

As you gain notoriety, the guards arrive and survey the damage done and they could say this guy is too tough for us and run away.

Because the player easily beat a few previous challenge rooms, more and stronger guards appear and fight. One set of guards could elude to the fact that the player is getting an increased challenge due to their previous success.

You could also gradually increase the difficulty of the game to match not only the players level and power set but also player skill. Have less or easier mobs spawn for struggling players (with lower loot tiers etc.) and better players would get stronger and larger mobs.

Maybe a person struggles with a certain enemy type. The game could add more or reduce the number of those enemies or give hints at how best to tackle those enemies. I hate when load screens just give you general hints like “buy better armor at shops”. If you keep dying to the X enemy maybe the game reminds you that X enemy is weak to fire.

b) The player decides to leave before backup arrives. Positive morality boost. Extra experience. Maybe points or currency for a “divine” item. But this option is less likely to align with the game so they could lose status points in their guild/house or give up possible bonus items or access to higher tier loot. Bards sing songs about the player being merciful.

Scenarios with puzzles
Puzzle designers usually resort to some type of automatic easy button solution that is there for everyone or no help at all. Batman: AA is a great example of the easy button. When you got stuck on a puzzle you put it in detective mode and the key puzzle pieces and enemies glowed. What ended up happening is that most people missed a lot of the great art and level design in the game because they went through most of it in detective mode. The devs have admitted to that issue and say they have put a limit on detective mode in the sequel.

The early Tomb Raider games might be a good example of no help games. Most people would have to go to books or online to get past some puzzles. But why can't a game offer help to people who need it when they need it?

You would start with the premise that the gamer does not want help (unless maybe they chose the simplest setting or you can offer help sooner). So as an example you would give a player maybe 5-10 minutes in a room and if they made no positive progress you would then use a story mechanic to offer them help (If the controller was just idle you probably would not count that time or help in an extended period). The help could also be done in a gradual fashion. The first level could just be highlighting a few pieces of the puzzle, then maybe highlighting the pieces in order. The final level could go as far as you solve the puzzle for them. If the player constantly needs help with puzzles then you could just offer the level of help they have needed in the past as soon as they enter a new puzzle section.

The big sell is that all these events get recorded and the game adapts to the previous choices you have made or outcomes in similar sections of the game. At the end of a level, you could have the boss or quest giver report on what you did throughout the level.

Another simple example of this might be adapting the shops to match the player character. Later on, the store could even adapt to a player’s choices.

I hate going to shops and seeing a bunch of weapons and items my character can’t use. The shop items should be tailored to only sell items that a specific class can use. It could also rank items by best for a class like a mage would see staffs first but could still get to see a list of swords that they could use. But then the shops could adapt to a player’s playstyle and highlight the types of weapons a person uses most in combat. So, if a player who prefers duel daggers to a sword then the store would show those first. But another player with the same character type but prefers a mace would see that highlighted. You could even offer discounts on that type of item for specialists or other items to get the player to try a different playstyle. Maybe loot drops could even be adaptable but these thoughts are giving me ideas for a new thread.
  • Useful
Reactions: Golden Xan