A rep grind by any other name...

| Thursday, January 26, 2012
Back in the dark ages, before I met other smart people in high school, before I had a PC in college, I had a Mac and not many games to play. But I had a few and a few good ones. One of those was Escape Velocity, a 2D game of space exploration, trade, and combat. It was a glorious game with many quests and stories to find and a great deal of flexibility. I'd almost call it a sandbox. I'm pretty sure it is still available to pay for (it's shareware). The first in the set was a solid bit of fun, though the mechanics of it meant that even if you'd helped one faction or another win, the galaxy didn't change very much. The second fixed this by adding a neat scripting system which could change planets based on certain mission results and ended up being, in my opinion, the best of the three. Finally the third added a ton of cool mechanics which made combat more interesting and had some pretty awesome storylines, but seemed to have gotten too big and too complex, in addition to having a strange method for picking a faction. Strange as in, oops, I seem to be a pirate now, or oops I seem to be a telepath who has been enslaved by the government and can only break free and play the game normally by going really far along the mission string. It was still a great game, just not quite as good as the second. But that's way more introduction than I intended.

The game had the option to demand tribute from planets. At first they'd just laugh at you and maybe get a bit mad too. But, if you had a dangerous enough reputation, they'd send out their defense fleet. Kill it all and they'd pay tribute every day. This was a handy way to be able to land on planets that sold cool stuff or were convenient save points (saving was done by landing on a planet, which made some exploration especially risky) even if the government of it was hostile, maybe because you'd been pirating their shipping for a few months.

The problem was that the combat rating system was... let's go with stupid. It was based on the number of kills you had, modified by the strength of the ships. This was a sum, rather than expression of the actual difficulty of any particular fight. Conceivably one could gain the highest combat reputation just by killing shuttles, the beginner ship which is more or less helpless. Conversely, destroying the most powerful ships around did not mean you'd have a high combat rating. It was a grind.

And it was as stupid in appearance as most rep grinds and their associated quests. "We'd love for you to save our town, you certainly look capable, and all those other people like you, but first, we need you to kill a hundred boar, so we know we can trust you enough to tell you to kill a hundred elves." Similarly, you could be flying a powerful ship, captured by your previous slightly less powerful ship, and still have a low combat rating. "Normally we'd kill you, but look at you, a Confederate Cruiser with added photon turrets, another neutron cannon, and improved shields and armor? Really? Come back after you've killed a few shuttles, and maybe we'll be impressed."

I'm not really opposed to rep grinds or requirements, but sometimes it seems sensible to have the game recognize that the player isn't random scum off the street, but is instead very well armed lowly scum off the street who will do anything for some money and doesn't care who ends up dead.


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