Where Slippery Slopes and Comeback Mechanics Meet Free-For-Alls
Games like Super Smash Brothers have a hard time controlling the freedom of FFAs. By "control" I mean maintaining a balance of skill based advantages for each individual player no matter how any other player decides to play. With 4 players in a Brawl match, if the game rules are set so that the player with the most kills after a set time wins, the freedom allows for kill stealing. In other words, if you do all the work to bring an opponent to 130% damage and someone else finishes that player off right before you can. Without any kind of points awarded for assist kills, kill stealing is a big deal. What's worse is having your target consciously run away from you to intentionality get killed by another player (for the purpose of manipulating the overall scores). I call this tactic lobbying.
When the rules are set to stock (lives) so that the surviving FFA player is the winner, players have the freedom to run away from confrontation to let the other players weaken/kill each other. There's not enough control in either of these game types to counteract player freedom. The problem is players can fall down a slippery slope for playing Smash Brothers normally, which is completely backwards. Simply playing a FFA game shouldn't shift the gameplay too far away from the core design.
To counteract this emergent slippery slope of FFA player freedom, some games have implemented comeback mechanics or rubberbanding features to give players a bit more control over the game regardless of how the rest of the FFA players play. The following are examples:
The Weak Shall Inherit the Earth... When the losing player(s) gets advantages/opportunities. Such design features can influence the leader to play considering the last place player creating an interesting recycling loop where all play against all.
- Smash Bros Series: Items (even Smash Balls) spawn closer to the worst player. If a player is doing really poorly (5 KOs behind the leader), they spawn into the match able to use their Final Smash attack for free. This gives struggling players a chance to catch back up.
- Zelda Spirit Tracks: The roulette item drops predictably at the location of the worst player. This encourages the lead player(s) to stay close to the last player. But not too close.
- Mario Kart Series: The further back you are in a race, you get access to more powerful items. Also, the drafting technique was refined in Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii. By driving within the slipstream of a racer ahead of you for a few seconds, you'll earn a boost. If you're really skilled (and if the other racers don't shake you off/hit you with an item) you can nimbly leap frog all the way into the lead.
- Because the tracks naturally create a type of folded level design, the hazards players leave on the track many chances to hit. So when the losing half of the racers set bananas, red shells (Super Circuit), or fake item boxes on the track these traps are more likely to challenge the leading players. In this way all the karts are connected in more ways that just blue shells and lightning bolts.
The last Shall Be First...When the loser (after a round/match is over) is first at some kind of opportunity or advantage.
- Bomberman series: Depending on the game, there are options that allow fallen palyers to continue to participate in a match. In Bomberman 64, dead players control ghosts that can possess live players and control them temporarily. In Bomberman DSi, fallen players can toss in bombs from the bottom of the stage. If a live player is killed by one of these bombs, the fallen player gets spawned back into the game with no powerups. With these features, the last place players are the first to attempt revenge.
- Loser picks: In Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Super Smash Brothers Brawl (optional) the losing player gets to pick the next stage everyone will play on. This is a small opportunity to set an advantage.
The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall... When leading players have more to lose for a given mistake/disadvantage.
- ChuChu Rocket: In this puzzle-action game the only way to reduce an opponent's score is to direct a cat into their rockets. Each cat does the same percentage of damage. So even though your opponents may be 50-100 points ahead of you, they'll suffer more from each blow.
The King's Ransom... When the leading player's loss can directly contribute to other player's gain.
- Halo: Reach. Head Hunter game type: (watch video here) For every kill, you can collect a skull that drops. You can carry many at once. Until you get the skulls to a glowing receptacle, you net no points. The more you carry at one time, the bigger a target you become and the more you have to offer to another player if you die.
- Zelda: Spirit tracks Battle: The more force gems (points) a player has the more are knocked loose when attacked. Loose gems can be grabbed by other players while the attacked player recovers.
- Smash Bros Series: In coin battle, the player with the most money at the end of time wins. Attack opponents to knock money loose (not out of their "pockets" but the money is free for grabbing none the less). When you get ringed out, you lose a percentage chunk of your money. These coins/bills can rain back onto the stage so others can collect them.
- Super Monkey Ball 2 Monkey Fight: The lead player in this party game wears a little golden crown. PUNCH the king out of the ring and you net more points than ringing out any other player.
- Wario Ware Inc: (see video here) In this party game players take turns drawing cards that represent different micro games. When the e-reader card is drawn, one player will have to play through the gauntlet of micro games. If he/she wins, they get all the cards, which equal points. If he/she loses, the stack moves over to an opponent in which they have a chance to run through the gauntlet.
- Advance Wars: It's hard enough to take out a player in a 1v1 battle. Often times, destroying all opposing units or capturing the opponent's HQ weakens your army in the process. In a 4 player FFA, losing units to take out another player would leave any aggressive player at a seriuos disadvantage. Fortunately, if you capture an enemy HQ you also automatically take ownership of their captured properties. This can easily double your income and producing capabilities making you a serious threat to the remaining player(s). So when one player gets aggressive, others generally must step in and spend resources rather than stand by on the sidelines.
In part 7 and beyond we're putting everything to work with detailed examples.