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I’m writing this as TotalBiscuit’s Killing Floor 2 early access gameplay and interview video continues to play in another tab. I realize I’m playing right into the devs’ hands, parroting all the stuff they want people to know about the game, but fuck it, there’s some good stuff worth knowing about. And I encourage readers to keep in mind, this is a game still in development, whose press is still mostly controlled by the company, and which may very well not be as good as we are currently lead to believe. I’ve only played one game by Tripwire, the first Killing Floor, and I got nothing but love for that thing, but I ain’t gonna be stupid about how I cover something that is, first and foremost, a product.

All that said, I like what I see. Not just in a, “this looks like a good game,” sense, but because it looks like someone actually trying to make a good game. Tripwire, as far as I can tell, isn’t just interested in following the conventions of good game design, they’re trying to improve game design, which is what I’m really interested in. I don’t just play games for fun, I study them as an art form. And it’s looking like KF2 could be a pretty good work of art. So then, what is it doing?

1: The Leveling System

This one’s actually a step back in my opinion. In the first Killing Floor, you leveled up a perk (or class) by completing certain goals in that task. There were definitely issues with that, as often times the numbers it would ask for were just ridiculous, and you might complete one task (say, do ten thousand damage with shotguns) while only being a quarter of the way done another one (weld two hundred doors shut).

In KF2, it’s moving towards a generic exp system. There are still different tasks, but rather than fulfill a certain number requirement for each, the different things you can do award generic experience towards the class level-up. It’s still an improvement over the usual, super shallow, getting exp through just kills, and it does fix the problems of the old system, but I still don’t like it. It rewards a single play-style, rather than encouraging the player to try out different things. It seems like Tripwire tried to meet the simple kill=exp system halfway, but I would have preferred moving only a quarter of the way while doing more to balance the numbers.

Maybe I’d like it more if they made it so you get diminishing marginal returns of exp on one play-style if you’re getting almost all of you experience through it. That way you’re encouraged to at least try other methods to get your marginal returns back up, but you can still get you level without doing so, it would just take a little longer.

2: Difficulty Progression

This is something that comes up a lot, particularly in hoard games. The problem of difficult increases primarily just making enemies spongier (giving them more health). Yes, it does technically serve the purpose of a difficulty increase, it makes the game harder. But it does not serve the broader purpose of that game as a whole, to be fun and satisfying (of course, that’s not all games are capable of, and I’m sure clever devs could work difficulty settings into an artistic vision beyond that, but let’s keep things simple). The problem with this is, by just increasing enemy health, the feeling for the player is that their weapons have just been made weaker, which is not satisfying.

What KF2 is doing, according to the dev team, is changing enemy behavior with higher difficulties. This isn’t revolutionary in itself; even in early Pokemon games, the main difference between a high leveled wild pokemon, and the same one held by a trainer, is that the trainer probably isn’t going to use Self Destruct on your Haunter. But integrating intelligent difficulty curves is different for every genre, and the hoard FPS still has trouble with it.

In KF2, Zeds (zombies; the enemy) will supposedly have certain abilities become available to them only on higher difficulties. Based on what was said in the interview, is sounds like this means the actual health of the different breeds of Zeds will be the same, or at least not significantly different, across all difficulty settings. How significant this is, I don’t know yet. We haven’t seen enough of the game yet. But the idea is good.

3: Dynamic Lighting

I’m not big on graphics. I say, gameplay first, story, style, etc. first. Playability (low min-requirements for PC) second. Pretty textures can be a nice touch at the end. But, KF2 has made graphical fineness a part of the gameplay. Again, I won’t pretend this is new, obviously something like Bayonetta wouldn’t play very well if it had N64 graphics. Most of the time, it seems to come about unthinkingly, let new graphic potential is reached, then something is made in those graphics that just happens to not scale back well; there’s not an intentionallity to it.

KF2‘s dev team seems very conscious of what to do with graphics. The game has a dynamic lighting system, so the lighting in different areas can change depending on environmental factors (eg: you can shoot a light-bulb out and the area will go dark). The levels are designed with this is mind. In the original KF, the best strategy is to find a place on the map that you can defend, and just hold out there the whole game. But now that lights can be shot out, after spending a bit of time in an area with bullets and grenades flaying everywhere, the place will go dark and become effectively a deathtrap. So, the dynamic lighting keeps people moving, keeps the game changing, and adds another layer of difficulty increase as a game goes on.

KF2 looks like a good game, and more importantly looks like it’s interested in being a good game. This isn’t a review -the thing’s still in a closed beta and I haven’t even touched it- but I’m happy we’re seeing stuff like this. I’m happy that there are serious, competent developers out there still interested in expanding game design. Above all else, it shows that the devs are actually interested in games. I wish good luck to Tripwire in finishing Killing Floor 2 and continuing to do good work, and good luck to gamers in getting good games.

Don’t Lose Your Way