Friday, April 19, 2013

Intimidation as a Gameplay Mechanic

Bioshock Infinite has gotten me thinking about how enemies in videogames respond to the player. In most video games--especially videogames outside of a zombie horror settings--it's often unbelievable how waves of enemies will run at me with no regard for their own safety, determined to tear my face off. It doesn't matter how many of them I kill, nor how brutally I kill them, they never even seem to flinch.It gets especially hilarious when you could rebuild the Sedlec Ossuary with all the bones you've shattered in a single fight, but the one remaining enemy continues to berate you with tired braggadocio.

Bioshock and Bioshock 2 handwave this with splicers. They're addicts, lunatics, and mutants all at the same time: their naked hostility may not be completely sensible but it's totally understandable. Splicers are generally depicted as being profoundly delusional. They get confused about who the protagonist is, about where they are, about what's going on. They're capable of lucidity, and a few even have conversations that you can listen in on if you're sneaky enough, but mostly they're raving lunatics. That's gone in BSI, though. The Founders and the Vox Populi are regular human beings. Sure, they're caught up in the fervor of a civil war, but that's the only thing that could explain anything going on inside their heads. These are regular people who, if they were real, would be terrified of dying. But they don't care if you're carrying a rocket launcher, they'll still try to hit you in the face with a lead pipe if they could just get close enough.

Hey, Terry, you got something in your eye.
In a Bioshock 2 promo video, they implied that splicers would fear you, that they'd drop off, look to get a different angle, or just flee. They even showed a splicer fleeing in terror when the player revved his drill; he didn't even hit them with it, just revved it up, and they fled. This idea enchanted me: enemies that leave the fight not because you murdered them, but because you scared the hell out of them. It began to take shape even more firmly as I realized that executions in BSI don't serve much purpose. They only work on enemies that are badly injured anyway. They provide some extra damage but not enough to be worth it unless you're a melee specialist.

This got me thinking: I don't care how gung-ho you are to kill somebody, when you see that guy incinerate your sergeant with fire he shoots from his fingertips, you lose a little bit of confidence. When that same guy then picks up the lieutenant, chainsaws off his face, and hurls his corpse across the room, you should probably start working on your "innocent, fireproof civilian" look. When you look around and realize that this dude has visited some variation on the theme of grisly murder on everybody in your platoon, and now he is coming for you with a grenade launcher and a purposeful look, I think maybe you just totally rethink your "murder this guy" strategy. If that doesn't work, maybe you just jump off the nearest balloon. After all, what's the worst the ground can do to you?
It sure ain't gonna set you on fire and then steal pineapples from your wallet
So, my idea is that enemies enact smarter behavior. We already have that to a certain degree; enemies will tell each other to flush you out of cover, they'll loudly announce that they're reloading, they'll complain that they're on fire, and they'll loudly telegraph haymakers while threatening to kill you. I just want to take it a step further: when you do something horrifying, I want the enemies to recognize that as some hard core stuff, and be suitably impressed.. To think "If he did that to Frank, imagine what he could do to me!"

During the course of combat, enemies would swing from brave to scared depending on how the player behaved. A brutal melee execution might cause the other units to give up and flee. Setting off traps or seeing particularly powerful special abilities would make enemies scared. On the flip side, badly hurting the player would make enemies brave again, as would killing the player, seeing the player retreat, or receiving reinforcements.

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