Thoughts on “Backward Gaming”

“Leveling systems”, in whatever fashion, complex or simplistic, are almost a ubiquitous part of gaming now and have been for a good decade or so.  There are plenty of games where you take a character or vehicle and build them up.  It usually makes sense, but sometimes I wonder about what would happen if we had a game that did the opposite—started you out insanely powerful and slowly stripped you of the powers as the game goes on.  I call this “backward gaming”.

To be sure, I can’t be the only person who’s thought of this.  I kind of hope I’m nowhere near the only one, as the more people who talk about it and express a desire for it, the better chance such a game will get made.  That said, let’s define the term, shall we?

Whether a role-playing game like, say, Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, on to unusual blends such as Ratchet & Clank or later Sonic the Hedgehog titles, on to the unexpected examples like certain Yu-Gi-Oh!, more and more you can find those R.P.G. elements, particularly some sort of leveling system.

Fair enough, really.  They can be interesting game mechanics, no matter the genre of the game itself, since you can take your avatar and make them stronger, faster, and so on.  It keeps players interested, makes them want to play the game that much more.  The thing of it is—isn’t such a thing becoming stale by now?  Sure, developers can create really interesting stories around a character or group of characters growing more powerful, but why not try for the opposite?

Consider this: You have Super Fantastic McCoolGame starring Super Fantastic McCoolPerson, and they start out the baddest thing around.  The tutorial section—since every game these days has to have a lengthy tutorial section—is Super Fantastic McCoolPerson flying around beating up thugs who pelt Super Fantastic McCoolPerson with grenades and even rockets, but of course they bounce right off McCoolPerson’s chest since they’re too over-powered to even do so much as scoff.

You’re given a few dozen combat moves to learn, everything from old-fashioned fisticuffs to fire-breath and the ability to cause earthquakes and whatever else.  The tutorial teaches you how to control the million ways in which Super Fantastic McCoolPerson is indeed super and fantastic.

After the tutorial, the Evil Legion of Evil People who are Evil come along and zap you with a laser-gun-or-something which only takes away your invulnerability.  Now you have to worry about things like grenades, but that’s okay, they still barely scratch you as it is.  As you fly around to uncover just what the heck is going on, the Evil Legion of Evil People who are Evil pop up and steal this or that power or ability.  By the end of the game, you’re little more than a normal person in a ridiculous outfit.

The catch, of course, would be to make the end boss somewhat normal, as well.  Too powerful and the boss battle becomes a glorified quick time event where you’re barely paying attention to what’s actually going on, as you’re frantically pressing X to not die, or some boring and repetitive pattern-recognition sort of thing.

Who knows?  Maybe the Evil Legion of Evil People who are Evil got tired of Super Fantastic McCoolPerson’s spandex-clad tuchus flying around, being all fantastic.  Maybe they’re just jealous.  Maybe they think too much power in one pair of hands is too much.  The possibilities are astounding, really.  Heck, if you really want to go nutty, since “dark and gritty” back stories seem to be all the rage in modern-ish gaming, make it so Super Fantastic McCoolPerson is a product of a “test”, and the lab isn’t actually an Evil Legion as much as just trying to get their creation under control.

Seems to me that a game like that would be interesting.  I admit I don’t know how financially viable it would be, but I think that with the concept of taking a weak avatar and making him/her/it/them super keen-o-riffic, while interesting in its own right, is getting to the point of—if not quite being boring, then at least becoming trite, it stands at least a good chance of becoming a financial success.

When Grand Theft Auto III brought the concept of sandbox gaming to a wider audience, it wasn’t really realized just how popular the style would become.  For a good few years, other sandbox games were called “G.T.A. III clones”.  I dare say the same could be true, here, of “backward gaming”.  Much like having a sandbox-style world didn’t “overtake” the game world to the point where no linear or linear-ish games are produced, if “backward gaming” ever catches on I’m sure it wouldn’t make the normal leveling system a thing of the past, either.

It might, however, be an interesting challenge, so developers of either style are allowed to make sure their “normal” leveling system or “backward” leveling system are up to snuff.  It would at least be interesting to see a big-name developer try their hand at it.  Imagine if Rockstar or one of its dozen off-shoots/subsidiaries took a crack at “backward gaming”.

I, for one, look forward to such a thing, and again hope I’m not alone in thinking about such a thing.  If we all banded together, maybe we could get a big-name publisher to prod a developer to try such a thing.  It certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in gaming history.


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