Saturday, January 8, 2011


Fighting is very much a part of video games. There are a number of reasons for this, for one we are creatures of conflict, well, the male of the species certainly is. There's nothing that men won't compete over - who can drink most, who can eat most, who can run fastest. Get men talking about drinking and volume will come into play; once everyone has told each other about the time they drank a barrel of beer and washed it down with a lab full of raw ethanol they'll start on duration "I once drank for 4 years straight..." or the maddest thing they ever did when drunk "There was this one time when we all thought it would be a great idea to chop our own legs off and practice micro-surgery on each other. Getting the nerves attached right was the hardest part, whenever I try to flex my middle finger I clench my left cheek instead."

But the fairer sex is not adverse to competition. I recently played Pandemic, a cooperative board game where all the players are attempting to beat the game, something they can't possibly do if they don't work as a very tight team. In fact, even playing as a team it's hard to win. However, this game didn't go down too well with a woman in the group, because there simply wasn't any opportunity to get one over on the other players.

Yes, females are happy to compete and engage in conflict as well as men (heresy, I know, next I'll be saying they enjoy sex as much as men), just not necessarily when it's presented as a simple smack-bang-wallop scenario. Incredibly, not all males are totally sold on it either, although a great many certainly are. Fighting is popular in games because it's an easy concept to grasp - fight this guy and win or you'll be hurt (not many of us like that option) or worse, be rendered dead (an even less popular choice than hurt in the great multiple choice quiz of life).

I had all this in mind when, many years ago, I designed a game based around collecting a rearing dragons. In this design, once you have a dragon and have nurtured it to maturity, you can set it against another dragon, either in a Dragon Battle or a Dragon Show. Fights for the boys, shows for the girls. This seemed like a whole lot of cross gender appeal win to me at the time.

However, it's just occurred to me that the shows, which are like aerial displays, only with fire breathing dragons instead of planes, should be the only type of competition in the game. Really, there's simply no need to have two forms of conflict because the shows are adventurous and dynamic enough (as a concept) in themselves.

This is good news, because even though I seriously enjoy designing combat systems, there are times when I think "surely I should be looking for a different form of direct competition other than this-hits-that game-play?"

I'm now wondering (with Pandemic in mind) if there should be a cooperative mode, where players can link up and fly their dragons together, in dragon displays against the AI. Again, there's still be plenty of conflict, "why didn't you get the barrel roll with smoke rings right!"

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