Break All the Rules: Emergent Behavior in RPGs

in Design

As we discussed in the first article of this series, Progression and Emergence: Two Modes of Play, there is desirable emergence and non-desirable emergence.

Desirable emergence is when the player discovers an in-game action or behavior that improves the overall experience and non-desirable emergence is when the action or behavior diminishes the experience. Examples of desirable emergence in RPGs are the player planning out strategies for enemies or maxing out their character stats (also known as min-maxing). Examples on non-desirable emergence would be using exploits or hacks to dupe items or generate infinite money.

For this article, we’ll focus on some specific examples on non-desirable emergence.Even though non-desirable emergence might seem bad at surface level, it can lead to some satisfying and memorable experiences.

Fable Lost Chapters

Fable – Money Exploit

Fable had a buy/sell system that calculated the price of an item based on how many were in stock. So if you had 1 diamond and the shop keep had 0 that diamond would be worth more than if he had say 100. This was fine for an individual transaction, but the game also allowed you to buy and sell in bulk without recalculating the price. This means you could sell 100 diamonds to the shop keep at a high price and then buy them all back for less than you sold them for. Rinse and repeat for infinite gold! Looks like the shop keep didn’t take business 101.

FFVI Atma Weapon

FF6 – Vanish/Doom Bug

FF6 had a lot of interesting bugs and exploits. One of my favorites was the Vanish/Doom bug (although I always used Vanish and X-Zone). Basically, you could cast Vanish on an enemy to inflict the Invisible status. The invisible status leaves the enemy open to magic attacks and also could override immunities like Death.

As a result, casting Vanish + Doom on an enemy would instantly kill them! This worked on bosses too like that pesky Atma weapon! Cheap? Yes. Satisfying? Very.

FFVII Item Menu

FF7 – W-Item Duplication Bug

Anyone familiar with FF7 will remember Materia which the skill system was built on. Some had unique effects in combat such as the W-Item Materia which allowed a character to use two items in one turn. If the player entered a battle, selected an item, confirmed it, selected another item and then backed out, the first selected would increase by 1. This could then be repeated until you have 99 of the item. Sephiroth is a push-over when you have 99 Elixers and Megalixirs at your disposal.

There’s obviously many more great examples of non-desirable emergence in RPGs. Leave a comment with your favorite RPG bug or exploit and if it’s a good one I’ll add it to the list!

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