Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other’s work. This entry was submitted by Émile Brodeur, co-founder of Lucid Tales, a worker co-op game development studio that also creates UE4 tutorials. Brodeur said his fellow co-founder Louis Lamontagne also deserved a co-writing credit for the column.
It didn’t take very long for me to fall in love with Hades, Supergiant’s take on the roguelike genre. It’s not just that the core gameplay loop was enticing, but seemingly every aspect of the game seemed to ooze quality and egged me on to play some more. There is something fascinating about how this game feels so complete and incredible and today I want to talk about how I think Supergiant accomplishes that. For me this has everything to do with how every aspect of Hades serves the gameplay loop, so let’s talk about that.
I used the genre of roguelike to refer to this game, but truth be told, depending on who you ask, this classification has vastly different meanings. For the purpose of this article, here’s what I used the term to identify key elements of the gameplay loop: floor-based progression, random power-ups throughout the progression and start-over on death. This classification puts Hades there along with games like FTL, Slay the Spire, The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and many more; games that have vastly different mechanics but whose core appeals remain similar.
This basic loop is very popular nowadays and for good reason: it’s incredibly compelling. The floor-based structure makes progression towards success very easy to quantify and encourages the player to push forward. Random power-ups ensure each attempt is different and presents an opportunity for synergies, making the player looking forward to those “god-runs”. And the start-over on death wraps it all together. Hades supplements this with a very satisfying combat system which ensures the compelling aspects of the loop are backed up by a fun overall experience. And this is the core loop that every other element of Hades feeds into.
One of the main ways that this loop is reinforced is through the use of multiple global progression axes. More classical roguelikes only have the player expertise getting better through multiple runs. Hades gives the player ways to make each attempt easier through multiple ways. The mirror makes the player stronger, by giving them more health, starting gold, or luck for example. The weapons offer different play styles and can be further customized and upgraded. Even the rooms can be upgraded with chest and pots that grant rewards or be fit with healing fountains.
Each axis of progression requires resources that can be acquired during the runs. This method of multiple axes of progression — some including raw stats progression and others being playstyle changes — has three very strong effects on the main loop.
First, it creates two different paradigms for each run: getting as far as possible or amassing resources. This in turns reduces the amount of “bad runs” since weaker runs can be used to gather resources instead, the player still feels like they’re accomplishing something. That completely discourages the player from abandoning a run, a mechanic too often seen in other games of the genre (looking at you, Spelunky).
The second effect is that with multiple axes of global progression, each player can more easily reach a state of flow. Since how far you go is based both on skill and the character’s power, the player doesn’t get exposed to more information than their current skill level can handle.
The third effect is that it gives Supergiant a bit more control over the overall progress of the player. This plays into the next element serving the gameplay loop; one that is rarely well executed in a roguelike: the story.
The narrative aspects of Hades, just like any other Supergiant games, are powerful. From the overall progression of story elements to the incredible voice acting, the game stands out as my favorite Supergiant game, and that’s saying something. While the runs most certainly feel like an exploration of mechanical synergies, the story ties them all together.
Every run is but one attempt at escaping your father’s authority and each one is tied tightly to the others through a continuous thread: finding your mother. When you die during a run you are immediately sent back to your mocking father and to the bleak realization that you can’t escape patriarchy.
The characters feel alive and dynamic: Zagreus talks to himself just enough to make it seem believable; the conversations between characters evolve with every shocking realization and there is a ton of contextual dialogue. The story does wonders for the game pacing as it allows the player to cool off between runs while also teasing them with new content, be it new replayability factors or new characters to interact with.
Speaking of characters, Hades does an amazing job at representing diversity through its unique rethinking of Greek mythology. Each character has a unique design, personality and voice that makes the world of Hades absolutely vibrant!
All in all, It’s no surprise that this game is a masterpiece since it’s built on every other game Supergiant has made before. It is built upon their strengths and vision and their amazing capacity for creativity and humanity. Even though the game depicts an endless fight against established power, it somehow provides much needed fun in these troubled times.
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