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Do End of Level Stat Break Downs Make Sense?

What are the advantages and constraints of end of level breakdowns?

This is a cross post from my blog here.

I was playing Arkane Studios' Dishonored and starting to get a feel for what the game plays like (a combination of Bioshock and Deus Ex) when at the end of the stage a screen popped up and gave me an end of level run down. It told me things about how I did, like how many enemies I killed, how many collectibles I found and so on. I found this very surprising and didn’t expect this kind of thing from the game.

Then I wondered, why didn’t I? Perhaps because neither Bioshock or Deus Ex do and they were what I was comparing this game to, but then why don’t they? What exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of this end of game run down? I'm going to start with the negatives.

The first big negative is that it is jarring, and takes you out of the story. You can point out that things like the pause menu and ability to save and quit the game whenever you want but the difference between those types of taking you out of the game and this are you ask for the others. You say I want out and the game obliges, whereas this is the game pushing you out of the continuous world it is creating.

Games like ‘They Bleed Pixels’ can use this feature quite easily because they aren’t particularly story based and wear their gameness on their sleeves and so you never really forget and fall into the game’s world, but in more story focused games where they try and make you the protagonist forcing the player to remember they are not is a real cost. 

This is a mitigatable problem though as you do it more in the context of the game, like making the stage run down appear to be the character’s notes about what happened in the mission and not just something that exists for the player, the 4th wall breaking is lessened. Trying to explain clearly game features in the context of the game can lead to some hammy dialog but the idea is good, a cohesive world for the player to live in that they don’t’ have to leave unless they want to.

I’m not saying breaking the 4th wall is bad, but doing it does put up a barrier between the player and the character and so should be done only if necessary. The best examples of characters that use it (Deadpool) use it to say something about the characters instability and by breaking the 4th wall and putting up a barrier between the character and the reader they remind the reader that it is a comic not real life and it is okay to laugh at the apparent psychopaths antics.

The second big problem is how it constrains story, because if you have end of level run downs you have to have discrete and easily differentiated levels. Sandbox games like the GTA series couldn’t have this feature because there is no start or end to the areas, and the amount of collectibles you can get on every mission turn out to be every collectible in the game.

You certainly could have end of mission break downs but even the missions tend to be more open ended and allow you to wander off and do whatever and so you aren’t really killing those people as part of a mission but because you wanted to and they had a nice car (or a dump truck).

If you want a comprehensive end of level run down you have to make each level modular and only accessible in the context of the story. If there are collectibles in the levels (like books in They Bleed Pixels or runes in Dishonored) you can’t let them wonder back to that area after the end of level rundown to find them because that would screw up the metrics.

You can let them go back and replay the mission as a whole but I will get into that more tomorrow with the pros of this choice. This results in the game being more episodic in nature, though games tend to be episodic anyways so this flaw tends to hide behind the already existing flaw of how we make and think about game levels/stage (area, goons, boss, next area).

So now that we know what some of the drawbacks are, why would you still want to do this? The most obvious answer is it gives players immediate feedback about how they are doing. They know if they missed anything and it gives them goals to shoot for which makes the game easier to become more invested in and encourages replaying certain parts. Since I have gone into those elements already with previous posts I will try cover the other aspects of it.

This immediate feedback also has the added benefit of reinforcing the choices the player made during the play through; choices like if to kill or not, help someone or not, or try and find everything or not. If the game wants to the player to keep asking themselves if killing is a justifiable thing to do when you can just avoid them it doesn’t have to make that point by putting in long winded speech it can force the player to keep asking that themselves by reminding them over and over again that they are killing people when they don’t need to (the gameplay equivalent of nagging guilt).

Every kill on the end screen is a reminder of your failure to act responsibly, or conversely a badge of honor for taking out another piece of trash. The game doesn’t force a judgement on your actions but by reminding you of the ones you are making it forces you to reexamine them after every level.

The last good thing I really wanted to say about it though is an extension of yesterday’s con, the episodic nature it forces on the game. Games do tend to be made based around levels and not worlds (GTA is world based, Bioshock is level based) and by embracing and reinforcing this it allows the game to make each level completely modular.

By giving each level a definitive start and end point you make it easy to add content to the game (DLC) and replay the content that is already there. In non-episodic games if you want to replay something you tend to have to either replay the whole game or have a save right before the mission, but in episodic games you can replay each stage at your leisure.

This easy repetition allows people to more easily (not easy as in less challenging way but in a less annoying  way as you don’t have to jump through saved game loops) enjoy/find all of the content in each level. You can make levels very dense without worrying that all your subtle touches will go unnoticed because even if they miss it they can replay that level. If you make areas dense and intricate then people will want to replay them so why not make it easy for them to do just that?

So it certainly doesn’t fit all games, but certain kinds of games can benefit greatly from it and it was a delightful surprise in Dishonored.

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