Getting people to experiment with different character builds and item load outs is a difficult task for game developers. Information is so readily available on the Internet, and fans of a game can be rabid enough to reverse engineer all the game’s mechanics and turn a game into a spreadsheet. Doubly so for min/max’ers like myself, who believe anything less than optimal is, to be blunt, a waste of time.
So how does a development team induce players to go against the community’s desires to be as powerful as possible? Everyone does it differently, but Flagship Studios took a novel approach to getting players to experiment by incentivizing experimentation.
Welcome to Hellgate London’s “Icon Minigame.”
In the lower right part of the HUD were three icons. Often, these icons would have a number in them, sometimes not. Each icon denoted a task for the player to complete—sometimes it was a certain number of kills of a specific creature type, sometimes it was a certain number of kills with a specific damage type, sometimes it was looting a specific type of item, and sometimes it was getting critical hits.
As the player fulfilled the requirements of the icons, the number in the middle of the icons would decrease. When the counter reached zero, the icon would fill in to inform the player the requirements for that specific icon were completed. Fill in all three, and the icons would reset after a few seconds with a new set of tasks for the player to complete.
Oh, and loot would erupt out of the ground at the players feet when the final icon was filled in.
The rate at which loot is acquired is important to ARPGs, and Hellgate London used the icon Minigame as a supplemental source of loot acquisition. Loot in Hellgate was still acquired the way players were accustomed to, but maximizing the ability to fill in damage type icons resulted in more overall loot per unit time generally. I’m sure there’s a relative power level that makes running high end content more efficient than filling in the icons for loot acquisition, but in the 15 months Hellgate’s servers were alive after release, very few players attained that power level.
Besides, who doesn’t like having loot explode out of the ground every so often?
Which is the point of the exercise. I may not have ever played around with the spectral or poison damage types had it not been for the icon minigame. Fire worked on most things, and for the few mobs that were fire immune, I had conventional or explosive damage to successfully complete combat.
Unfortunately, we may never see the icon minigame in an ARPG again. I think part of that is because Hellgate was poorly received by gamers, and the stigma of the game has stuck to this particular mechanic. Suffice it to say I was a huge fan of both Hellgate London and its icon minigame. I hope a game dev tries to incorporate into a game in the not too distant future.