05 July, 2009

Stranglehold Design Discussion

written by Blain Newport on Friday, July 3, 2009

I played through Stranglehold again. I see the other difficulty levels (above Casual) but have zero interest in playing them. I just wanna wreck stuff. In this playthrough, I tried to get super high damage scores. By the end I had caused over two hundred and twenty eight million dollars in property damage. :) That number is misleading, though. In many fights I did barely any damage. The game didn't give me enough ammo. Instead I just moved from cover to cover and let the infinite ammo bad guys do the work for me.

The game wouldn't be anything without the environmental bells and whistles, I think. The bad guys aren't interesting to fight. Mooks with guns almost never are because all you can do is take cover and kill them. There's no dance.

In DooM, many enemies threw fireballs or shot rockets which could be dodged easily in the open, but got progressively harder to avoid in closer quarters or when there were a lot of bad guys throwing them. It gave the player more to do than just point and shoot. It was also fairly easy to interrupt enemies by keeping fire on them, trapping them in a pain animation.

There's no doing that in a game like Stranglehold. Sure, technically you can shoot a guy to put him into a pain animation, but why bother? Headshots are instantly lethal. In game theory this is called a dominant strategy, it's the only way to play if you want to win. In multiplayer it's fine. Keeping track of multiple humans trying to kill you is plenty of stimulation. But in single player it's boring. No AI has enough interesting behaviors that shooting it in the head doesn't get old after a couple hours.

But by giving me exploding propane canisters, precariously supported walkways, and destructible cover to shoot at, and rewarding me with extra "hero power" if I do it while sliding down a banister or diving through the air, Stranglehold keeps me engaged, looking for opportunities.

There's another game that's built around the premise of killing stylishly more than just straight head shooting. It's called The Club. I think I need to secure a copy.

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