Game Design Journey

The Victory Lap

When you finally defeat that final boss, that insurmountable obstacle, that darn puzzle that destroyed 5 of your best controllers, what do you want next? Do you want to take away your moment of victory with some new challenge, with maybe a small cutscene as a resting period? I mean, videogames have been doing this for years without end, just discarding our accomplishments immediately with some new, greater challenge. Now, in the movie world this makes sense, since our time is limited and so is our patience. But with videogames, we have all the time in the world between challenges, as well as some overpowered weapon we used to defeat some incredibly hard boss. So why not extend that victory a little?

This is exactly what GRIN does in its not-so-well regarded revival of the Bionic Commando franchise. After a particularly hard environmental puzzle or miniboss, they reward the player with some over powered weapon, some dumb goons with basic weaponry, and as many advantages as they can give you environmentally to, in the words of a wise man, "totally screw over their day". Now, with Bionic Commando's somewhat less than ideal Metacritic Score, it's easy to understand why this little slice of innovation was ignored by the masses, but that's no excuse. I want to see more games let me be a badass after taking on the final boss, not just throwing a cutscene at me.

Unless, of course, it's really really well done. But I digress…

As we complete our goals, we build up a sense of accomplishment. This is not specific to gaming, and is ingrained in our minds from a very young age - to be proud of what you have done. The Victory Lap capitalizes on the euphoria of accomplishment that we feel after a particularly weighty challenge - a challenge we would give you an achievement* for accomplishing. While for some people merely unlocking the achievement is enough, others very easily ignore this feature. These "non-achievement" people derive status from the ingame challenge they have overcome, not from a virtual badge of honor that exists outside of the game. For these people, the reward must come in the form of more gameplay, which is where the victory lap comes in.

The Victory lap itself is a relative term, and it's definition is appropriately vague. For the purposes of this article, I am going to define it as "a gameplay segment that is preceded by a segment of unusually heightened difficulty and is meant to relieve the player's tension by weighing elements of the segment's design disproportionately to the player's advantage." In other words, following something hard with something easy.

Applying Victory Lap is not so simple as "follow every hard section with an easy section", however. Each use of the Victory Lap makes subsequent Victory Laps less useful and more obvious - you don't want it to become commonplace. For this reason, you want to use it with only your hardest sections that will really get a player wound up - or as said above, a section worthy of an achievement. These occur naturally right next to a story's flow points which is good, because the easiest place to insert a Victory Lap without player resistance is going to be right before a major story shift - they have few or no current objectives that they feel they are wasting time not handling.

The rewards of using the Victory Lap are not easy to see or track. By extending those good feelings one gets from a major encounter or bossfight, you're really enhancing the memory of their good feeling rather than creating a new one…if that makes sense. Or to put it another way, the Victory Lap doesn't really do anything for itself, but it makes the rest of the game seem a lot better than it may really be. Now, whether or not you want to play with players' feelings in that way may seem like a dilemma, but let's be honest here - If you really don't want to enhance the reaction you get from an audience, whether it's pleasure or fear or love, get out of entertainment. Now!

- lafigueroa