Looting and Realism

Game genres start out “realistic”, but since that’s not very good gameplay the definition of realistic-enough gradually changes. Today, everyone who plays an MMO knows you keep your stuff when you die. You die a lot and it shouldn’t be a huge penalty. But back when they were first made, passerby could loot everything from your dead body – anything else would have seemed stupidly unrealistic. Modern MMOs give that just a nod – you can loot a few coins from a dead player, but it doesn’t come out of their stash.

Clash-like looting is in a crazy place between realistic and playable. The most common rules are that you instantly steal stuff as you smash the building holding it. Hit a gold vault with a sword, or an arrow, or even a fireball, and a little bit of their gold pops directly into your treasury. Gold teleports instead of needing to be carried out because it’s simpler. Otherwise you’d need troop carrying capacity, pick-up animation, rules for when to run home with a full gold sack … ick.

One game, Batman clash-like Arkham Underworld, actually does realistic gold vaults: a massive vault door needs to be destroyed, then you quickly grab the cash. Trying to break that huge door can run attackers out of time, leaving them with nothing as the cops come. You know – the way actual vault doors work. But the other way you get gold in that game is hilarious. Computer hackers collect gold. To steal it you smash the computers with baseball bats and gold coins fly out.

I enjoy the optional “strongbox” building for how little sense it makes. Normally, attackers leave 1/2 of your gold lying on the ground for you to scrape up later. They just do. But some games have an extra building, with stats like “level 5 strongbox: 5,000 gold plus 57% of the rest is protected from attackers”. How does it work? Beats me. The same as the magical 1/2-gold rule, I guess.

Oddly, they all keep one “realistic” thing which ruins the game: you get gold by stealing from other players. That seems obvious — you can’t get gold out of thin air. But it’s a game, of course you can. It ruins the game since most people are broke, and the few players who have gold — their moms’ called them to dinner midway through playing — is pretty much arbitrary. The games could make enemies worth an “average” amount of gold, plus or minus. But people hate that. They like knowing they’re hurting someone else. For example, many clash-likes use “ghost” bases as filler — an exact copy of someone’s base, not owned by anyone. People hate those when they find out there’s no one on the other end crying over lost gold.

Instead the games bend over backwards to average out loot, while making you still feel you earn it all by stealing. The “Loot cart” makes it so you steal more gold than they actually lose. Bases are always worth a minimum amount, even if they have less. Daily challenges give free gold for a certain amount of victories. There’s an extra-safe area for storing your gold. But despite that it feels “realistic”, like the savage free-for-all gold stealing players think they want.