Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Making Durability Fun - Improving a "Broken" System

Over a month ago, I wrote a review of a review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that brought up some interesting points, many of which I ended up contesting with my opinion (which I tried my best to support with facts). One issue that I consider a major theme of the review in question was regarding (weapon) durability and how they could "never be fun" among some other criticism, which led to the reviewer revising the title of the review to better describe durability issues and releasing a video with a clever title to match.

While at the time, I made several arguments about why the system wasn't as bad as the reviewer made it out to be and described how there was some benefit to having the system over not, I do think he had a point. After contemplating for a while after publishing the aforementioned article, I found there's a few ways to make a durability system fun by designing around its traits, especially the statistical measurement of durability. This article will cover these insights, even though I'm pretty sure plenty of people have already thought of them.

Equipment Destruction Effects

I briefly mentioned this in the review of the review I linked above. Specifically, I said:
"when a weapon breaks or is thrown, the attack is considered a critical strike."
While I think this did add an interesting bit of strategizing when using weapons and I should've also added that the critical strike can stagger enemies allowing one to get an upper hand in combat, I think there's much more that could be done with equipment destruction effects. For instance, here's a few examples:
  • When destroyed, the weapon unleashes a ring of fire centered on the destruction location.
  • A shield provides allied characters with a damage absorption shield when destroyed for a short time.
  • The final shot from a breaking bow greatly increases the size and speed of the projectile and can strike multiple enemies before expiring.
To put what I listed another way, think of some cool attack that a character in a RPG game or the like can unleash and imagine if that occurred when equipment is broken. That and more is the extent of the creativity that could go into effects that can occur when equipment is destroyed.

Durability-Scaling Effects

Durability is generally listed as a value that determines how long equipment lasts before it breaks. This value will typically be updated as the equipment is used or undergoes any effects that may change that statistic. It can also be used to directly determine the power of an effect the equipment has, which in my opinion should generally encourage the use of equipment. Therefore, the effects should usually get stronger as durability decreases. Here's some examples of durability-scaling effects
  • An electric spear fires more bolts with increasing intensity as its durability decreases. At low durability, the spear unleashes an area of effect lightning attack that damages everyone nearby.
  • Armor that increases movement speed as durability decreases.
  • A firearm that shoots more accurately and with increased speed as durability decreases. At low durability, shots also deal bonus fire damage.
Equipment could also have detrimental effects as durability decreases or beneficial effects at higher durability. However, when utilizing that design I'd recommend pairing such traits with...

Self-Repairing Equipment

This is something I was surprised not to see more of in Breath of the Wild considering Skyward Sword toyed around with the idea alongside shield durability. Technically, the Master Sword in Breath of the Wild becomes usable after breakage after some time, but I prefer towards a style where durability is restored on used equipment instead of starting a self-repair timer when the equipment breaks.

Even in games where it's possible to repair equipment it's nice to have something that's effectively infinite use over time in such a sense, even if it involves a form of management that has limited appeal. However, to those it does appeal to, pairing self-repairing equipment with effects that are most potent at higher durability should generally result in incredibly powerful equipment that degrades in power over time. This can allow a player to feel like they're very strong fairly often but not all the time unless they happen to acquire a lot of the equipment. In a sense, durability serves as something of a resource meter in such a scenario.

Final Statements

I could say a bit more on this topic like how durability as a value could be tinkered with to make "glass cannon" weapons and the like but those concepts seem to have been explored a bit more, particularly in Breath of the Wild. Hopefully this brief article sufficiently explained that (weapon) durability systems can be fun instead of a dull, frustrating chore if it's designed around well, even if I left some of the mechanical ideas up to imagination.

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