Transferable Concepts and Collapsing Possibilities

This week on our weekly show The Arena I had the unique pleasure of learning how to play Realm Royale, Hi-Rez’s battle royale medieval shooter game, with Janelle Malagon in the role of teacher. While I have played some battle royale games in the past, mainly Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), I was shocked by how quickly I picked up the core mechanics of the game and ran with it, having multiple rounds with 3+ kills and a top 20 finish (which is pretty good). I have to attribute much of this success to Janelle’s sage advice, learning the core mechanics of a new game, even one in a familiar genre, can be a pain-staking process, and Janelle brought me up to speed quite quickly. Above this, Janelle and I took turns playing, and I was able to learn strategies and concepts watching her excellent gameplay (she had even more games with 3+ kills).

Still, I can’t get this nagging feeling out of my head that another part of my success was how the skills of other shooter and battle royale games could be mapped onto Realm Royale. Yes, Realm Royale has battle royale gameplay mechanics unique to itself, such as the forges where the player can craft items, the four classes the player can choose from which chooses their special abilities, and other unique RPG elements that are proliferated throughout the game. But the core of the gameplay is remarkably similar to other battle royale games like PUBG or Apex: Legends, the player jumps from a plane onto an island, finds weapons, and kills other players, an ever shrinking circle forcing players into proximity with one another, with the winner being the final player left standing.

This means that Realm Royale almost instantly tapped into built in gameplay loops and strategies already rehearsed in my hands and mind a hundred or more times. I knew that I needed to loot things to get gear, even though I didn’t know what that gear really did. I understood that the shotgun was good at short ranges and that head shots would lead to quicker kills. Some of these tactics are unique to the BR genre, but most are just generic shooter tropes, the knowledge of which might signal that a player has solid fundamentals, or is even a “pro gamer,” but all it really denotes is time spent on similar titles, building up an understanding of transferable concepts that can be applied to other games.

I feel like these transferable concepts can be good, they allow game’s to build off the success of their predecessors and add onto their formula to better engage an audience. When Halo 2 introduces dual wielding (absent in its predecessor), it might only feel intuitive because we were already used to the weapons before we dual wield them. One not need look far to see how games build off of these kinds of transferable concepts: nearly all games feature the concepts and ideas of other games. Yet, there is something collapsing about the way games build on each other, isn’t there?

For instance, there have been two big “revelations” in competitive gaming this decade: the first is the MOBA genre (think: League of Legends or Dota 2), which grabs the tactical controls of the RTS genre and repurpose them for singular unit control in an arena with a host of unique characters. This genre clearly builds off the successes of the RTS genre, only making an important, but not incredibly significant, twist on its predecessor, you control one unit, not many. Similarly, the Battle Royale genre, the other revelation in competitive gaming, has nearly all the mechanics of shooter games, it just changes the rules of engagement. Before even taking a step on the island of Realm Royale, player is likely to have encountered every one of the weapons that are in the game, or something with a similar effect.

This strict adherence to emulating other games might be good for sales, but it collapses the possibilities of games. Even if we’re getting new stories, new maps, and even abilities, eventually it is the stretch into new genres that adds the potential for new and exciting games that challenge us, force us to think outside the box, and change the way we view the medium. While I had a lot of fun in Realm Royale and would be willing to return to its chicken-filled mayhem, I do hope that we see developers take risks to create competitive genres that don’t just retrace those neuron lines already drawn in our brain from the past, but carve out new patterns of gameplay that allow the entire medium to evolve.

Erik Kersting

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