Genre is a tricky thing in general, but it can get even more complicated when it comes to video games. It’s purpose is the categorizing works within a medium so consumers can find more of what they’re interested in. You like the film Alien? It fits nicely into science-fiction horror. Knowing that you can lead yourself into Sunshine, Event Horizon, or Pitch Black for finding a similar buzz. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll love all films within a genre equally. It at least puts you into the right field to begin your search for more films though. As I mentioned it gets especially tricky when it comes to games. Particularly because it creates false expectations spawned from misunderstanding which part we’re applying the genre label to. Thinking about it I can identify at least three different aspects of a game that people try to correlate genre to. Let’s take a look at each of them and what impact they have when considering the game’s genre.

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As usual, a conversation with folks on Twitter got me thinking further into the topic after virtually walking away. Nearly all games have gone in the direction of adding one in some form. Some thank RPGs for the incorporation of this leveling, while personally I think it’s just a natural evolution of games. I mean if you’re going to dump dozens of hours into an experience, the idea of losing everything at the end of your session just isn’t appealing. The depth being added to the experience creates layers of skill for advanced play while still being accessible when you first sit down. Imagine trying to sort through all the guns and mods in Call of Duty if out of the box you were able to select what you’d want. You won’t have a basis for what’s going on or be able to gradually grow into your play style. Are you a sniper by default, or more of a run and gun infantry player? There’s beauty in a progression systems let you slowly build into what you want from the game. The end result is a win for consumers and developers alike. As a player you get what feels like a tailored experience, and for developers you can widen your net of appeal to welcome new gamers into your world.

With progression systems abound though, what makes them stand out from one another? Just having a system doesn’t mean it’s going to improve the game. Personally the addition of advancement in the Halo series multiplayer starting with Halo: Reach actually turned me off from the series. The idea of prestige in Call of Duty terrifies me from playing; a reset button to completely wipe all your progress to gain a shiny star next to your emblem. Really they can come in a myriad of forms good or bad, but here’s a few notable experiences where the progression system really drew me into the game.

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So what exactly does it mean to be level 27?

Update 9/22/15 – The Taken King & Light Levels:
With the launch of The Taken King (TTK) they have completely revamped the level system. Most of what’s listed below has been retooled to fit the new Light Level (LL) system created for TTK. Thanks to a post over on Reddit we have updated information on how damage is calculated. I haven’t tested / verified this personally, but it seems to be legit. In short, raising your LL is the quintessential stat now for encounters. The key data is as follows:

  • Being one character level below the enemy reduces your damage output by 5%
  • Being two character levels below the enemy reduces your damage output by 28%

On top of that penalty there is a penalty that stacks on top if that comes from the LL differential

  • If the enemy is recommended at 40 LL or more over you they are immune to your attacks
  • If the enemy is recommended at 39 LL over you’ll incur a 50% damage output reduction
  • This penalty scales down through to where at being below the LL by 1 you will incur a 3% damage output reduction.

Some examples to put this into perspective, using a level 40 Guardian with 240 LL as the base.

  • versus a L41 enemy w/240 LL recommendation takes a 5% penalty
  • versus a L42 enemy w/290 LL recommendation would do no damage
  • versus a L40 enemy w/260 LL recommendation would take ~ 25% penalty
  • versus a L42 enemy w/241 LL recommendation would take ~ 31% penalty
  • versus a L40 enemy w/220 LL recommendation would take a 0% penalty

So far data suggests there is NO BENEFIT to exceeding the recommended LL / character level. In the event you are either 13 levels over the enemy even with them, you will only do 100% damage to them. Matching their character level and having 40 LL over their recommendation will still only do the same damage as if you matched their LL. Personally I want to do further testing on this but as it stands this seems to still be the case as Year1 Destiny.

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