Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Experience Points

It is a bit ironic: twenty years ago, experience points were such a alien concept. They were so... Japanese. Especially here in Europe, we missed a great deal of cult classics, because RPGs and games with experience points seemed to be not in demand. Just think about how many games from the early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series were never released to the Western audience.

Title art of the Japanese Final Fanasy 5
The original never made it to Europe or the USA.

Nowadays, the concept of experience points and the character growth that comes with these has permeated into all kind of different genres. Why, you can even earn experience points in racing games!

 Why are experience points so cool?

The reason why experience points have become so popular is two-fold. From the player´s perspective it is the overwhelming sense of progression. Collecting experience points is a small but significant step in making your character better at what he is doing. Even a quick gaming session of a few minutes can give you experience and thus the feeling of advancing towards a bigger goal. It is quick success and long-lasting at the same time.

Status screen from Lords of the Rings on Gameboy Advance. It shows the attributes of Gimli.
I don´t have much time today so I will only kill about 173 orcs now.

If you look at it from a designer´s perspective, the motivation is sometimes less noble. Why hand everything to the player right from the start and risk that he is bored after a few hours of playing. Make him collect an arbitrary number of points to unlock everything step by step. Not much effort, but a hell of a lot more long-lasting motivation. Just be careful that the amount of experience points does not move into the god-forsaken area that is called "grinding".

Different concepts for experience

Since experience points are an overused concept, modern games introduce new twists to the formula. It ranges from simple tricks like renaming them, in Final Fantasy 14 you will collect "routine" to reach new levels. Other games use experience points as currency to unlock new abilities for your character. A few even give you separate experience bars for the different actions you perform, giving you the chance to train the aspects that you like the most about your character.

Status screen from Lands of Lore. It shows 3 experience bars for Fighter, Rogue and Mage.
Fighter, Rogue or Mage experience increases when you use appropriate combat actions. (Lands of Lore 1)

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