Gamasutra - Escape Mechanics in RPG's
Gamasutra has a new article talking about escape mechanics in RPG's.
Run Away! Escape Mechanics in RPG's.
Today, I'd like to talk about running away in RPG's. These games give lots of attention to battles, but usually downplay the means of avoiding or escaping them. This is quite different from our everyday lives as well as the natural world, where flight is usually preferable to fight. Combat risks injury and often death, and the defeated generally don't explode with cash and prizes sufficient to justify the conflict in the first place.
Since video game conflicts carry less risk, there's less need for an escape mechanic than in the real world, and some don't allow escape at all. Today I'll be analyzing the approach classic RPG's have taken over the years*, ending with a fascinating new approach in an Indie RPG that breaks a lot of new ground.
A Reason to Run
First of all, there has to be a reason to escape. If your party regains all their health and mana after a battle, and the game autosaves every step of the way, you've got nothing to lose from defeat other than your time. This is how Defender's Quest works, and thus it doesn't need an escape mechanic - just an option to quit or restart the battle.
Most RPG's are different, since they rely on endurance challenges. It's pretty much a given that your party can defeat 5 imps in the early game or even 4 red dragons in the late game. The real question is whether you can get from one save point to the next, surviving dozens of battles and crawling through dungeons without running out of supplies and getting wiped out.
This is where escape comes in. Sure, you can probably take on 2 ogres in the short term, but you can't afford the gradual wear and tear on your party. But what if you can't pull off the escape? Then you'll be forced to fight anyway, and at a disadvantage. This is the fundamental risk/reward dynamic of running away.