Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Designer Notebook: Familiarity and Consistency within sequels (DeathSpank series)

Recently I've been on a binge on Hothead's DeathSpank games (DeathSpank, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue and The Baconing), and I had an interesting observation about how the games approached keeping contents fresh and new, yet maintaining familiarity.

For the uninformed, DeathSpank is essentially a loot based Action RPG similar to the likes of Diablo. The core gameplay loop is taking on quests that yields incremental weapon improvements (0r at least it should be if you intend to play it the right way). So really, the bulk of your playtime will be on this screen:

Going through the three games in quick succession, there's an interesting observation about the type of items you get in the three games:
  • In the first DeathSpank, your weapons/gear are built upon the classic fantasy themed motifs: swords, gaunlets, element based arrows.
  • In Thongs of Virtue, the game detours towards a much more modern (modern retro) feel, with guns/grenades replacing ranged weapons and ranged spells. Your gear was also themed appropriately to that setting (western, military, etc)
  • In The Baconing, with the setting moving towards a futuristic setting, the game moved towards a much more abstract themed with more "futuristic" weapons.
You may have noticed that my description of The Baconing is lacking, well, that's because as of right now, I'm the most disappointed with how items/gear is handled.

The great thing about the first two game's choices is that it either a) uses classic fantasy setting that is easily understood by the audience (in the former) or b) uses general cliches to aid player's understanding (in the latter). An bow is a bow, and a machine gun is a machine gun, but what the hell is a laser fish (I wish I was kidding)? I appreciate that as different themes and settings, it's appropriate to change up your related items to make it "feel right", but there are only so many levels of abstraction can be done before the original meaning is lost. It's also interesting to note that while the second game took a turn for a more modern setting, major motifs were kept identical (treasure chest is, appropriately, a wooden treasure chest), it is only with The Baconing that it changed into a futuristic design, which only serves to confuse players coming from the first two games.


  1. Sharks with fricking lasers attached to their heads?! To be fair, they did take DeathSpank out of the title.

  2. Well yes, the game title did change, but clearly the game does enough recalls in both the character, the intro cinematic and every other aspects to make it clear it's part of the same series.

    I've gotten a bit further, and fair enough, the gear you get still fits in to the humour angle that they went for, but some of the weapons you get seems too jokish and obscure for it to make sense. The game plays a very fine balance of humour vs functional (barcode scanner to defeat robots in the second game was brilliant, and made sense right away in terms of usefulness/damage output), and I think a with the third game, it tipped a bit too far just to setup a joke.