Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hell Gates 2: Experience Points, classical approach with a twist

At the first glance, the experience points system in Hell Gates 2 seems pretty basic. Your hero starts fairly incompetent at level 1. By defeating enemies he gains experience and with enough of them he will advance to the next experience level.

Combat scene from Hell Gates 2 in the Land of the Undead
Killing these undead foes will give you lots of experience.

No experience rewards for questing or exploring?
Well, there is... sort of. Exploration is the core principle of Hell Gates 2 and offers its own distinct rewards that, for example, can grant you new abilities to progress further into the game. Also, sometimes you will stumble upon little shiny things called "rupees". Likewise, you will get these precious tokens from thankful villagers after solving their problems.

Hero finds a green rupee.
Finding a green rupee in the little garden of a house.

Presenting: the Bonus Point System

Rupees can be handed in in exchange for Bonus Points. 20 of the low-grade rupees are worth one. With a Bonus Point you can bypass the conventional level-up process and invest it into one of your character´s attributes. And here is the major difference: Bonus Points will give stronger increases to your weak attributes! For example, a weakling elf can boost his strength by an enormous amount of 3 points by investing just 1 Bonus Point. In analogy, the strong attributes would only get a small increase.

Screen where you increase your attributes
"A" attributes raise faster than "B" or "C"

What was I thinking?

The Bonus Points were initially created due to a limitation of the game engine. The maximum character level was capped to 50. In fear of hitting the level cap halfway through the game, I had two options: cut the experience point rewards in half (and make levelling painfully slow) or introduce an alternative reward for questing. Thus, the Bonus Points were born. I also soon discovered that there was a big misbalance in the game: character attribute growth differences between races were way too big and would result in balance problems later on. And so, the added boost to weak attributes was introduced.

Status screen of a level 50 elf hero
A hero at the level cap.

What is cool about it

Since Bonus Points act so differently from conventional level-ups, they present a completely new source of motivation for the player. You can add diversity to your character and compensate weaknesses of your character´s race by questing and exploring. And since the strong attributes get a smaller boost from Bonus Points, there is no risk for the overall game balance by stacking a single stat to an absurdly high amount. Running around and helping people will result in a more well-rounded hero while you can also focus on the killing business and create a "single-minded" combat machine, if you wish.
It also prevents weird cases like the act of killing 10 goblins yielding less experience than telling a villager that you did so.

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