Number Theory

Square

Mathematicians may argue that everything in the universe is about mathematics. If you haven’t heard any mathematician saying that, now you do, although I have absolutely zero evidence and proof for this argument.

But one thing I firmly believe is that the core of video game is to play numbers and hiding the fact that players are playing with numbers. Some of them are obvious: health, damage, weapon durability, so long and so forth; some of them are not much apparent: movement, recoil, etc. Those seeable or invisible stats are usually the main component of the game: when a character levels up, the character’s health and stamina also go up and the character can take more damage than before; when the player picking up a more powerful weapon as a reward of playing the game, the in-game avatar can perform more ferocious attack and face tougher enemy. Game design uses their knowledge and experience to set those numbers to satisfy players.

Yet in recent years, we see more and more game transforming design of the game to design of numbers. More than common, those numbers are directly visible to players. People tend to care about those seeable numbers much more than the hidden numbers and in the case of aforementioned games, players will deal with those numbers throughout entire playthrough. Some developers even add components solely purposed to make players focus on increase those numbers instead of mastering their technique. Two of such games are Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildland and Assassin’s Creed Origins. Previously, Ghost Recon franchise focus on tactical shooting while Assassin’s Creed series make the player a powerful and yet vulnerable assassin can kill or be killed by anyone in the game. The two latest iterations in those franchises, however, add level system to both game and completely change the series’ focus. Instead of doing meticulous observation, stealthy approaching the target, shooting accurately or parrying enemies’ attack at the right time, those two games shift the focus to level up character, get better weapon and therefore let the player able to proceed to more dangerous area. Ghost Recon Wildland and Assassin’s Creed Origins are far from bad, but the design shift, in my opinion, destroys the gameplay appeal from the original series.

Besides the developers’ active attempt to break their own rules, adding components like leveling and weapon grades is a sign of lazy design. Making players feel accomplishment is the spirit of game design, and there are many ways to implement it. Among all the methods letting player chasing a higher stats is not only one of the most effective, but also one that can be easy to come up with. Role-playing games deal with stats all the time because players need to see the character growth throughout gameplay. However for Assassin’s Creed or Ghost Recon, those systems result in some ridiculous nonsense: the great assassin now can only take one third of the health with “assassination” when facing higher level enemies; a bow with some fancy decoration, rated “purple” is multiple times powerful than a bow without and rated “white” when shooting the exact same type of arrow; a high-level character can walk quieter than a low-level character.