Cogmind vs Skyrim

23 Oct 2017

I have played both Cogmind and Skyrim recently, and I think there are some deep similarities between them.

The global difficulty clock

Cogmind and Skyrim share a game mechanic, which I’d like to call the “global difficulty clock”. As you play, almost-inevitably, the global difficulty clock increases, and techniques that worked well previously stop working as well.

In Cogmind, the global difficulty clock is the number of times you have ascended a level. This corresponds roughly to Rogue or Nethack’s depth, the number of floors down you are positioned, but according to Cogmind’s lore you are “ascending” rather than “descending”, and more substantively, you can never retreat to a previous level - which is why it’s appropriate to call it a clock.

In Skyrim, the global difficulty clock is your player level. As you perform certain actions (swinging your sword at a skeleton, blocking, lockpicking, and so on), you accumulate points in those skills - and this is not optional, there is no way to give up skill points. Once you have a certain number of skill increase points, you go up a player level. This seems at first like it has no downside, but many procedural generation elements are pinned to the player level. So by going up a level, you are making many dungeons and encounters more difficult.

In both Cogmind and Skyrim, the global difficulty clock is connected to “rewards”. In Cogmind, ascending rewards you with “slots” allowing you to equip more items. In Skyrim, leveling rewards you with an increase to the max capacity of one of your three pools (health, mana, stamina) and a “perk” to one of your skills. If the world and enemies would stay the same, these rewards would be simply good. However, since both the task increases in difficulty, and the tools that you have available to use increase, the net effect is that the game increases in cognitive complexity for the player.

Stealth

Cogmind and Skyrim are both primarily stealth games, even if they don’t emphasize that at the outset.

Both have stationary and patrolling enemies with range-limited line-of-sight, and in both games the enemies switch to investigating or pursuing the player if they see the player, and the player is rewarded with additional damage for striking an unaware enemy.

One difference is that in Skyrim, most of the time the player can hear and see enemies at much greater range than vice versa, while in Cogmind, unless the player deliberately pursues that ability, the enemies and the player are at near-parity in their ranges.

Furthermore, in Skyrim, the player and enemies have a cone of sight, while in Cogmind, both the player and the enemies can see equally well in 360 degrees. This means that, for example, following closely behind a patrolling enemy is feasible in Skyrim, but not feasible in Cogmind.

On the other hand, Cogmind’s accuracy formula includes a bonus for shooting after having stayed still, so there is an “ambush” strategy which is advantageous in Cogmind but not in Skyrim.

It’s a conversation

There are probably more similarities (I admit I have not completed either game). Each uses dialog and strewn texts to establish story and setting, though I haven’t seen enough of Cogmind to say precisely how they work. I am not sure whether there are any elements in Cogmind (“the assembled”?) similar to Skyrim’s Giants and Mammoths; avoidable enemies that, in contrast to almost everything else, do not scale with the global difficulty clock and consequently act as a kind of benchmark you can measure yourself against.

However, it’s fun and interesting to realize that many game design techniques are a conversation, and both triple-A games like Skyrim and indies like Cogmind are part of the same conversation.