How would gameplay be altered if the player received a bonus for not reloading the game?
Although I’ve worked on more than forty published game projects, my career as a game designer has been littered with intriguing ideas that I was never quite able to get into a finished game. Many of those that were geared towards appealing to a wider market have since appeared in Nintendo games – including allowing the player to continue even if they haven’t passed an objective (I actually did manage to include this in Attack on Pearl Harbor, and Nintendo featured it in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which pleased me greatly). One design feature in particular is one I consider to be particularly interesting, but something I don’t believe I’ll ever get into a game now. I want to share the feature here in the hope that it will inspire someone else in their projects.
The feature in question is the “No Claims Bonus” or “No Reload Bonus”, which I originally designed for a game called Seven Shades that began as a fighting game project for Perfect Entertainment, and which I continued to pursue for a while at International Hobo. I met with Eidos about this project, but they weren’t interested, and ultimately it had to be shelved. The feature in question was designed to give players reasons not to reload the game unnecessarily, that is, to make the outcome of the player’s agency more meaningful by discouraging them to reload in the case of failure or loss. Rather than making reloading impossible, the No Reload Bonus incentivised the player to maintain their in-game continuity – something I’ve only ever seen done in the stifling straight-jacket of persistent worlds, where the player has no choice in the matter at all. It was modelled after the ‘no claims bonus’ that insurance companies offer for those that do not claim on their insurance policies.
Here’s the original design documentation text from 2001. For context, the game was to be divided into Episodes, and each play through the game is called a ‘Rendition’ (since the game was supposed to be the retelling of an epic legend), while ‘Karma’ was a score of points used to unlock secrets and bonuses for the player to experiment with.
This option is displayed between Episodes, and on the Pause menu, along with the description 'Return to Previous Episode, equivalent to reloading'. This takes the place of a reload option, allowing the player to return to any episode they have played in the current Rendition. The current state of game is then reconstructed from the Chronicle data, to allow the game to be played again from this point.
However, using the Rewrite History option affects the No Claims Bonus (described below); either halving it, or reducing it by a multiplier.
The player is warned before using Rewrite History exactly what effect it will have on their No Claims Bonus.
No Claims Bonus
To encourage players not to constantly "reload" (Rewrite History), the game offers a system that rewards players who can resist the urge to reload.
A "no claims bonus" is awarded to the player's Karma score, that adds to what they receive after each Episode.
This starts at 0%, and grows by 5% for each completed Episode. After a complete Rendition, this will have risen to 40-100% or so. At 100%, it changes to display x 2; at 200%, x 3, and so on. It levels out at x 5 Max (500%), and goes no higher.
When a player uses Rewrite History or Begin New Rendition, they lose half of their No Claims Bonus. If the bonus 200% or more, it decreases by 100% instead of halving.
Therefore, if a player "reloads" after 2 Episodes, it just drops from 10% to 5%; if they reload after 10, it drops from 50% to 25%, but if they reload after 46 episodes (about 4 Renditions) it drops from x 3 to x 2.
When a player starts playing a Chronicle, the Chronicle save file is modified to remove the No Claims Bonus, which is then held in memory. It is only saved back to the Chronicle if the player uses the Return Another Day (Save & Quit) option - this means that if the player starts to play and then goes back to reload and try again, they will have lost their No Claims Bonus. This effectively stops cheating.
What interests me most about the No Reload Bonus (as I am now inclined to call it) is the way it changes the player’s relationship with reloading the game, offering a middle-route between the occasionally maddening freedom to reload at will and the frequently irritating restriction of a persistent world. The player is free to change the way events unfolded by reloading (‘rewriting history’, as it was styled in the design documents), but has reasons not to want to do so. As a result, if (say) a beloved character dies the player faces an interesting decision: accept their death and keep their bonus, or repeat the gameplay to save them at the cost of the bonus. It was my hope that this would create an interesting play experience.
I doubt this feature will ever appear in any game, since it involves a substantial rethinking of the player’s relationship with save games in a way that I’m no longer convinced is plausible for the gamer audience, and certainly isn’t suitable for a mass market audience. Nonetheless, I present it here as an intriguing curiosity from my game design past that may be of interest to other game designers, especially those working on indie computer role-playing games and the like where this kind of feature could generate new kinds of play experience.