Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Game Concept

Vampire Survivors is a game where players assume the role of a Castlevania-inspired character navigating through levels. Essentially, the game allows players to automate their attacks slightly more effectively until they inevitably meet their demise, level up, collect loot, randomly attack pixelated bat swarms, etc. Apart from distinct health and speed attributes, the overall gameplay features scarcely differentiated enemy types. Nevertheless, the game loses its strategic complexity as players progress through levels. Engaging with the game entails repeatedly revisiting the same levels, and while this might seem tedious, it facilitates gradual improvement. Despite the challenges, Vampire Survivors is one of the most compelling games. It remained an indie game that spent thirty minutes removing a few stock pixel art assets for a substantial period. Strangely enough, it proved so rewarding that it diverted players’ attention from many popular games and intricately designed masterpieces.

Manipulating Perception of Numbers

Regarding gameplay, Vampire Survivors offers several prominent distinctions, including damage numbers, an imposing 30-minute time limit, and the unveiling of loot box-like opulent chests. How our minds perceive statistics and numbers are far from objective. The game evokes a sense of remarkable accomplishment and engagement from mundane gameplay by employing various psycho-mathematical tricks that leverage our cognitive processes in number interpretation. Undoubtedly, Vampire Survivors is a game of relative ease. However, it has been meticulously crafted to exploit unconventional number perceptions at every turn. It extracts astonishing levels of motivation and gratification from the straightforward gameplay. In a certain sense, the game exhibits manipulative traits.

Over the decades, many game designers have harnessed this rational method, wherein the game manipulates players into perceiving something ordinary as an extraordinary achievement. These achievements also have long-lasting effects, injecting an addictive quality into the game’s features. For example, in some games, the virtual currency used to purchase in-game items or services may have prices consisting of decimal figures or specific points. For instance, like microtransactions, if the virtual currency is sold for $10.99 instead of $11, players might feel they are getting a discount or a lower price, even though the nominal difference is relatively small. It can influence players’ perceptions of value and encourage them to purchase more frequently. Another example involves bundle offers, where players can buy items at a discounted price. In this case, the discount percentage might give the impression that players are getting a great deal, even though that is not always true.

Although it might sound peculiar and unethical, the human brain perceives more significant numbers as impressive due to a deep psychological bias toward more significant quantities. This bias likely originates from primitive behaviors such as agriculture or our ancestors’ communal societies. Indirectly, the brain places more emphasis on higher values. It makes more significant scores or numbers feel more valuable. Regardless of their practical significance, an effective way to illustrate this peculiarity is by considering the scenario of overlapping probabilities. What if the chances of obtaining an item in a bundle or loot box were divided by a more significant value? Would the satisfaction of obtaining that super rare item be more significant compared to relying solely on luck? When fully understood, it holds the same proportional value as before.

Endurance Principle in Video Games

The principle of endurance emerged as video games took over arcades, with people continuing to find pleasure in witnessing impressive numerical values. Moreover, the concept applies to more contemporary titles that do not solely rely on score-based gameplay, such as successfully parrying in the Dark Souls series or repeatedly dying to grind and purchase permanent buffs in most roguelike games. While these adjustments do not directly impact the in-game economy, they create an illusion that we are spending and generating a more considerable value for our sophisticated gadgets. Such decisions align with games like Borderlands or Moonlighter, which embrace the delightful joy of obtaining various rare weapons or materials that flood the screen with damage numbers, often reaching humorous levels.

This method is called the Player Experience of Needs Satisfaction Model, a framework that delves into the psychological aspects of player engagement. Specifically, these needs correlate with the satisfaction and enjoyment players obtain from their gameplay experiences when these needs are adequately met. Vampire Survivors was designed with this framework, focusing on autonomy and competence. Competence encapsulates mastery, power, and a sense of control that intertwines with skillful gameplay. For instance, players start by running and collecting valuable gold, where this currency becomes a growth factor. It is used between runs to enhance the prowess of their avatars in the game.

The game’s brilliance extends to the post-run phase, where players revel in their achievements. A comprehensive list of achievements beckons, fueling the desire to explore various characters and adopt strategies to unlock each achievement regardless of brevity; each run contributes to an overarching sense of growth and progress. This incremental progress significantly contributes to players’ sense of competence and mastery. Skillfully, Vampire Survivors maintains a balance between challenge and empowerment, allowing players to seamlessly defeat their adversaries before smoothly transitioning into heightened tension as formidable enemy groups start to appear. This dynamic rhythm engages players, facilitating a psychological state known as flow. In this state, players find themselves immersed in a harmonious synchronization between the demands of the game and their skills, resulting in an immensely satisfying gameplay experience.

Design Philosophy of Vampire Survivors

The design philosophy of Vampire Survivors reflects certain elements found in gambling, a method many games adopt even in the past. On the other hand, this approach might be less appealing, as it can still feel similar to the gradual progression of enemies and experiences encountered at the beginning of each run. However, there is another side to the phenomenon, and there are value limits that the human brain can easily understand. Regardless, more significant numbers tend to have a more significant impact. When the values reach billions or even trillions, it becomes increasingly challenging for people to comprehend these scales of numbers intuitively. With understanding their magnitude, the difficulty can lead to reduced readability and investment. Many mobile games, including role-playing games, fall into this category because players anticipate power increases with each content update. Over time, this can result in bosses, enemies, and players dealing damage and Health values that are nearly impossible to visualize. The strategy helps avoid overflow errors of rounded values and provides players with more fitting and appropriate statistics.

Conversely, decreasing the value instills fear and tension as the value decreases. For example, as seen in Vampire Survivors, simply watching the passing seconds heightens tension, even when running out of time, is not an immediate threat. Crafty games manipulate our biases to induce panic during countdowns. Many game designers can amplify the emotions stemming from these changes by decreasing or increasing the value and altering the pace of a game. The pace is not linear in nearly every game with numerical progression and often fluctuates. Despite being exponential, games like League of Legends significantly have mechanisms contributing to logistical gameplay’s appeal. Ultimately, we must construct a complex production chain through grinding or farming, which often yields abundant, even excessive, resources.

However, more than merely increasing its value is required. Emotional investment becomes challenging When a value becomes too small or too large. Additionally, the fluctuating values must be supported within a contextual framework, as it is too easy for a game to become trapped and offer the illusion of progress by constantly displaying larger values. However, such quick and shallow engagement fades. It disappears once we awaken from the illusion, realizing nothing substantial has changed.

Sustained Enjoyment and Increasing Values

Although most of the enjoyment from the game over time stems from a series of increasing values, Vampire Survivors operates similarly. The game is built upon a specific strategic context that enhances the appreciation for decisions. In this dynamic, time plays a crucial role. Despite our character’s progress revolving around collecting gems and leveling up as quickly as possible, the emergence of enemies and dangers is determined by time management. With each passing minute, slightly more formidable enemies appear, and new events are triggered. By combining the continuous threat of diminishing time, signifying stronger enemies, and the fact that enemies grow more powerful independently of our progress, the game takes on qualities akin to a race as we strive to outpace our foes and navigate the exponential curve of our power increase.

Such dynamics present intriguing strategic choices. Some of the most potent item combinations in the game, which empower us to face death itself, consist of components that accelerate the rate of monster strengthening. It intensifies the stakes of our race against them. Furthermore, items like the Crown do not enhance the outcome of our abilities or survival durability, making their usage a risky investment despite their experience-boosting attribute. Similarly, the Pentagram, which has a powerful effect, actually hampers our growth by depleting experience gems. However, both will be combined into the potent Gorgeous Moon if we maximize the usage of both items. It allows us to regain lost strength through a captivating risk-reward maneuver.

Shared Techniques in Vampire Survivors

Unsurprisingly, Vampire Survivors employs many of the same techniques. When rolling random weapons to choose from during each level increase, substantial hidden bonuses are bestowed upon weapons we already possess. It enables us to keep enhancing them. Such adjustments prevent frustration from never finding specific items we need. Beyond that, Vampire Survivors even manipulates us into believing we obtain a rare five-item chest in the early game. Besides thrusting us directly into the compulsive cycle of increasing numbers that underpin the entire experience, this achievement is reached by ensuring that the first six chests in each repository have been predetermined, with the sixth chest guaranteed to be a level three chest.

Games like Vampire Survivors and similar titles are fundamentally straightforward, sharing surface-level similarities with video games that aim to profit from players by having them level up in trivial ways, much like MMOs do. However, Vampire Survivors emphasizes a progression system that directly utilizes continuously increasing values. While gacha games exploit our limited statistical understanding to ensnare us in gambling, the game introduces a slot machine mechanic implemented subtly. However, should we draw a line and differentiate between harnessing our inherent mathematical tendencies to create an enjoyable experience and exploiting them? It is tempting to view all games cynically, stating that they all leverage the quirks of primitive mental processes to deceive us into obtaining false satisfaction. However, many games utilize the same quirks of human psychology for different purposes.

Single Payment Model in Games like Vampire Survivors

Games that attempt to ensnare players in cycles of progression often create the illusion of empowerment through leveling up items and grinding currency that essentially changes nothing. Frequently, this approach is adopted as the game increases challenges in tandem with our growth. It drives us back into the grind to achieve elusive satisfaction. In better-designed games, clear endpoint goals are marked by satisfying achievements that make becoming stronger genuinely worthwhile, unlike the shallow progression cycles in superficial yet hollow loops. In more modern titles like Vampire Survivors, we have transcended the time-consuming hardships of the past. Instead, these games use techniques to enhance an empowering experience that is relatively manageable and, most importantly, only requires a single payment.


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