Modern-day video games are some very complicated endeavours. Not only do you need to organise teams of designers, marketers, developers and everyone else required to take a game from concept to a final product, but you’ve also got to make it engaging enough for players to enjoy playing it!
Now a lot of this engagement comes down to the game mechanics being employed by the developers. Video game mechanics as defined by humanity’s bastion of truth, the internet, are “the toolset given to players by video game designers that enable them to achieve predetermined objectives.”
Video games are filled with game mechanics all working together in harmony unless your game is Ride to Hell: Retribution because those mechanics weren’t so much working together as all trying to avoid being in Ride to Hell: Retribution because it’s shit.
There are quite a few great game mechanics that have surfaced over the years but haven’t really taken off even though they really deserve to. Here are some that I believe we need to see more of, with the caveat that it’s done well.
5. Adaptive Music
Out of all the game mechanics, music is a pretty fundamental one. It’s one of humanity’s earliest forms of expression and one of the ways we differentiate ourselves from others. Now, most video games have music - from soundtracks to sound effects to various musical cues and stings – and all of it impacts the atmosphere of the game.
Enter adaptive music. This is music that reacts to how players are playing the game and the main game series that includes this mechanic is the Devil May Cry series. The way it works is that the better you play, the louder and more pronounced the music becomes. The music is unique to each level so you’re motivated to do the best you can just to hear each level’s music.
Imagine the Chemical Zone theme from Sonic the Hedgehog with adaptive music. Based on my experience it’d be silent considering how much I lose my rings.
4. Time Loops
The narrative elements of video games are incredibly unique to the gaming industry itself as, not only are they hours longer than your typical film or television show, they’ve also got to account for all sorts of player skill levels. Most single-player games have an underlying ludo narrative dissonance to them just because of the way they’re played.
So how can games get around these inherent plot holes that help explain why all these characters aren’t dead by halfway through the game? Well, if we turn to Arkane Studios’ Deathloop we’ve got the answer right in front of us.
Yep, if games implement some sort of time loop or time distortion like that seen in both Deathloop and the Prince of Persia series then no more plot hole. Now there’s just the question of whether real life is nothing more than a simulation and we’re all in a time loop Groundhog Day style.
3. Bullet Time
Bullet Time, a revolutionary visual effect introduced in 1999’s The Matrix, is just like The Matrix film franchise’s perception in pop culture. It was hailed as revolutionary back before the turn of the millennium when it was first released but years of parody have reduced it to a tired lazy joke.
However, that’s not the case regarding the video game industry. The Max Payne series is the main series that’s centred the gameplay around this mechanic and apart from them, there’s not really much out there. The thing is, as I mentioned in my Couch Soup article, the Max Payne games kick-ass and the main reason is down to bullet time.
There’s no better feeling than diving through a window, turning the atmosphere of the room into 90% lead and landing a double somersault all in slow motion. So how can more games with gameplay like the Max Payne series be a bad thing if it makes me feel so good?
It’s not a bad thing, it’s one of the best things in the (gaming) world.
All of these entries so far have been all from larger game studios where most of the innovation and creative risks (both good and bad) come first from the indie scene which is then picked clean by the vultures of triple-A developers.
One of my favourite indie developers has to be Lucas Pope. He’s made Papers Please and the incredible Return of the Obra Dinn and it’s clear that his main gameplay mechanic is bureaucracy. Now, you may say “bureaucracy isn’t a gameplay mechanic” to which I respond, “it is if I say it is”.
Both of these games revel in bureaucracy and more importantly the intricate incongruency between the rigid inflexibility of bureaucracy and the human cost that comes with that inflexibility. That incongruency lends itself to interesting stories and moral decisions that make these games that much more interesting.
Chuck some more bureaucracy into your games and keep me questioning my inner humanity.
1. Nemesis Systems
It’s fair to say that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was the smash hit of 2014. Among many things, it was great to see more Lord of the Rings content getting screentime in the gaming industry and arguably the best part of the game was the revolutionary and unique mechanic for the orcs called the Nemesis System.
The way the system worked was essentially that each and every orc had their own personality, traits, fears and strengths. Now, this isn’t the first time games have had AI with all this stuff but the game also lets the orcs jostle for position in the local hierarchy, promoting organic change which can lead to really interesting methods of gameplay.
You can either run around decapitating orcs left, right and center on the path to whatever the end goal of that game is… stealth kissing your wife? I’m not sure. Anyway, you can insert your own orc into the food chain, interposing yourself in your chosen orc’s important battles to get them in positions of power.
The stories this system creates just by playing the game are incredible and I still can’t believe we haven’t seen this more from other games.
What video game mechanic would you like to see more often in games? What game do you think implemented some of these game mechanics the best? Let me know down below.
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