Game Design Talk: Burnout Paradise and the Feeling of Progression

For a game that is fairly one-dimensional at its core, Burnout Paradise does a lot of little things to motivate players to keep playing. You will unlock new cars by either winning races or taking them out as they randomly drive by you on the road. The game keeps track of all the super jumps you complete, fences you smash and billboards you drive through. You can even race for the best time on basically every street in the game against your friends or against the world.

Those little things have kept me playing this game longer than I usually plan to. However, each of my sessions usually ends when I realize how far away I am to making progress in the most important measure of progression in the game: the licenses.

The ultimate goal of Burnout Paradise is to get a Burnout Elite license. You work your way up the license chain by winning events. When you reach a certain number of wins, you jump to the next level. This in itself sounds fine and totally logical.

My problem though is the way that it’s weighted. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact number of wins for each race, and almost every website is reporting different goals than what I’ve had to go through. Because I’m playing the game so late, the milestones I have to attain may have been patched in after everyone wrote their guides. In any case, each level requires an increased number of wins and each level ramps up the AI a bit.

I just got out of the B-grade license, and I had to win 30 events to move to A. Up until B, I had finished less than 30 events in total. I groaned at the thought of having to play 30 events, but I slugged my way through it. Now I’m in A, and I have to win 40 events. Any way you slice that, 40 events is a long way to go before I actually make any progress on that front. It gets worse though. By the time you’re ready to unlock the final license, you have to win a mind-boggling 110 events.

Basically, the way the game is weighted, should you play it to completion, 10% of your time would go towards you moving up the first three levels, while 90% of your time would go towards moving up the final three levels. For me, I feel like the game lulled me into a reasonable progression, and then all of a sudden it feels like the game is saying to me, “Thought moving from B to A was hard? Now you have to do twice as much work to make the jump from A to Paradise and then three times more work to go from Paradise to Elite! Muahaha!”

On top of that, regardless of license you have, you’re choosing from the same set of events. You can only beat each event once per license level, but you can (and later on have to) do the same events again in order to progress. So now not only does the game ramp up the amount of work you need to do to move up, you also have to redo stuff you’ve already done, further adding to the lack of progress you feel from playing.

While I’m kind of mad over the total number of events you have to win in order to truly beat the game, I’m more mad at how it’s divided up. Instead of having six levels and weighing it towards the end, why not have more levels and/or spread the wins more evenly? The game tries to compensate for the lack of level progression by gradually giving you new cars, but that’s not the main motivation for playing the game. The main motivation is moving up in license, which I personally find way too daunting at this point, and I’m sure many other gamers would agree with me.

I still feel like this is a really good game, but the feeling of progression that I originally had feels hopelessly far away now. Do I want to commit myself to at least 200 more attempts across 4 different event types to beat this game? Hell no. I like this game, but not enough that I’m actively going to commit myself to another 200 events to jump three levels, some of which I’ve already done multiple times. I’ll play it at my own pace, but it bums me out to know that I’ll likely never see the end of this game.

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