Right off the bat, I’m going to admit that I’m comparing two very different games to one another. The similarities I’ve noticed are almost certainly due to the fact that I spent the past few weeks playing Bloodborne and Rack N Ruin and not much else.
But the most interesting connection I’ve noticed between the two is that, in both games, progression is often based on the idea of permanence. (I’ll call this your “gameplay footprint.”)
In Bloodborne, you might not find the next checkpoint, but if you manage to find a shortcut, open a gate, or activate an elevator, that thing becomes permanently available to you. So even if you die, you’ve made progress, since you’ve left a gameplay footprint.
Rack N Ruin operates in a similar manner, since the whole game is based on the idea of corrupting a world. If you corrupt a portion of the world, it stays corrupted. And, just like in Bloodborne, if you open a shortcut, that shortcut remains open even upon death.
In both games, your inventory carries over from life to life. On one hand, this means that if you burn all your heal pots on a boss and die, you spawn with no more heal pots. On the other, when you spend an hour grinding souls (or Blood Echoes in Bloodborne) to buy more heal pots, the heal pots you buy remain in your inventory after you die.
I actually really like this, because it can feel punishing, but not in a way that’s unfair. My “punishment” for not beating a boss fight is that I have to grind some more heal pots. I’m okay with that, because I also don’t lose any of my items when I die with a full inventory that I spent a lot of time grinding for.
Anyway, this is interesting to me because it feels like a relatively new type of progression. Back in the early days (I’m talking Atari 2600 here), progress was quantified with a number score. You knew you got further than any of your friends because you got the high score. In the original Mario games, progress was made by moving physically to the next checkpoint or level, and this seems to have become the most common form of progression in video games. RPGs (and more recently, online shooters like Modern Warfare), have you quantify your progress by leveling up. In Metroidvania games, you progress by acquiring abilities that allow you to reach new areas. In fighting games, progress is made by eating away your opponent’s health bar. And so on.
Now, I have to acknowledge that Bloodborne also has you progress from checkpoint to checkpoint and level up by spending your Blood Echoes, and Rack N Ruin has you collect abilities (or weapons, or spells) from bosses you’ve defeated, allowing you to tackle dungeons and solve puzzles that were inaccessible to you earlier in the game. Yes, both games offer other, more established forms of progression.
But they also let you advance your game simply by changing things.
It reminds me of the tragically under-appreciated ZombiU, actually. In ZombiU, there was permadeath, but every action your character took in that world was maintained in your next playthrough. One early quest (if I’m remembering the game correctly) asked you to power on a generator. Even if you died, that generator stayed powered on when your next character arrived in the world. In fact, any time you died, your previous character would be shambling around the world as a zombie, which was a pretty cool touch that reinforces the idea that the things you do in the game have a lasting impact, even if those things amount to simply dying a lot. (Fun fact: Ubisoft actually introduced this mechanic way back in 1986 with a game called Zombi.)
Come to think of it, progress in Minecraft is 100% based on the idea of leaving a gigantic gameplay footprint.
Even so, this is a really cool gameplay mechanic that’s not been explored much at all, though I hope that changes in the future. In fact, I’d love to see games that play around with entire stories based around the concept of changing tiny things about a world and watching those things “Butterfly Effect” into major consequences. Think of a Minecraft world, only where digging a hole looses an organism that, over time, evolves into a virus that impacts nearby life. Or, where over-farming leads to drought, or where knocking down a tree can displace a creature who would have otherwise bred and populated your forest.
This “gameplay footprint” idea has enormous potential, and I sincerely hope we see more of it.