Community Discussion: Blog by shaxam1029 | The ABC's of Game Design: R is for Risk (Ra Rinding rof Risaac)Destructoid
The ABC's of Game Design: R is for Risk (Ra Rinding rof Risaac) - Destructoid


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Hi, I'm Shaxam.

Or maybe I'm Max, or Anan; depends on where and when you're from.

Videogames are pretty neat, my favorites are:(in no particular order)

Skyward Sword
Final Fantasy VI
Mother 3
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Thief 2
Doom 2
Twilight Princess

I also like writing about videogames, more specifically about game design.

ABC's of Game ________:
A is for
B is for
C is for Conveyance
D is for
E is for
F is for
G is for
H is for
I is for
J is for
K is for
L is for
M is for
N is for
O is for
P is for
Q is for
R is for Risk
S is for
T is for
U is for
V is for
W is for
X is for
Y is for
Z is for
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(Hoorah, exams are over! I've been itching to get some time in for blogging lately, and the next two months of absolute freedom is the perfect opportunity to do so. The "ABC's of game ______" series is something I hope will continue throughout summer, and hopefully beyond. Constructive criticism is appreciated.)

Videogames are a pretty unique medium, in that theyhave the ability to reveal something about the player that they might’ve not even known was there. Games allow people to act out a seemingly limitless number of hypothetical situations, and when faced with those situations, the logic behind the choice that someone makes is actually really important. Take Saints Row for example. It seems like most people forget about the main story in those games, instead opting to wreak mayhem on the city, with a combination of murder and theft. Why do players do that? Well… well it’s kind of fun! Players choose to do things that in real life are rightfully considered illegal, because it gives them a rush. It satiates the more primitive urges of violence, chaos, and… maybe I’m reading too far into this. The point is that videogames can reveal and use humanity’s more undesirable traits to their advantage, appealing to, and sometimes humiliating us. And there is perhaps no trait that is more-oft exploited than greed.

Think about every game you’ve ever played. Now think about just how many of those games contained a risk-reward dynamic. There are some exceptions, but most of those games were using greed to tempt you. Beckoning you to a rather ravishing looking reward, only to pull the rug out from under your feet, making you feel stupid that you ever even thought about attaining those extra coins, or whatever, in the first place. And that’s one of the things I love about videogames. You can call it an abusive relationship, but whenever a game exposes and shames me for a rather faulty character trait, I smile.

But how can designers create risk-reward systems that are good? How do you assure that you’re reward presents itself as desirable to the player, and that the risk is perilous enough to be of some threat? To be honest I’m not really sure. I doubt there’s one answer to this question, there never is, so instead of trying to answer it directly I thought I’d look at a game that I think has risk-reward embedded in it’s DNA.

The Binding of Isaac is a rogue-like/shm’up/adventure created by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. The game gives you control of Isaac, a small boy who must descend deeper and deeper into his basement to achieve the end-goal of defeating his slightly-crazed mother. As I mentioned earlier the game’s a rogue-like, a genre almost synonymous with risk-reward, but I think that TBOI does an exceptional job exploiting humanity’s tendency to want more. I mean, there are multiple rooms dedicated to gambling in the game!

Each floor gives you a basic outline of the rooms and placement, but leaves out whether or not the chamber in question is filled with blood-thirsty monsters, or a desirable power-up. It’s possible not to explore each floor completely, and just defeat the boss and progress, but what would be the fun in that? I found myself stumbling onto the boss chamber at times, only to choose to venture further into the cold, dark, floor before progressing, my heart filled with hopes of potentially coming across a bucket of lard, a dead bird, growth hormones… yeah, the items in this game are pretty weird. But they all feel appropriately rewarding, and stack not only in effect, but visually as well. Every powerup attained bringing you closer to looking like the greedy, decrepit freak you really are. This lends a sense of excitement to every item encounter, and keeps the reward from getting old, boring, or predictable. The risk component of the risk-reward dynamic is also kept from stagnation by virtue of the games randomly-generated nature, interesting enemy design and patterns, and the fact that the game is incredibly HARD.  

Isaac is also a fantastic example of risk-reward done right in games because the rewards are hidden from you. They might not even seem like a particularly attractive offer if you knew what they were, but you don’t. It let’s your imagination blow the potential reward way out of proportion, which frequently hinders your ability to accurately judge just how significant the risk is going to be. It pokes fun at you and your overzealousness, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
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