A Dime a Dozen

The always ebullient GameSetWatch has another interesting guest article up: 20 Underused Game Mechanics. I don’t disagree with the whole list, but with some I just have to disagree.

3. Design Your Own.
Gah! Besides the absurd technical requirements behind this in most cases, I find it to be a terrible idea. Maybe it is because I am a game designer by day, but if I’m buying a game, I expect to have plenty of intelligently constructed levels waiting for me. This limits your levels to all but the basic building blocks. While this can be a good idea in the sense of mods extending the experience, it shouldn’t ever be a part of the core. People don’t want to work to play a game.

4. Not Re-Using Mini-Bosses.
There are probably few designers that think reusing Mini-bosses is a great idea. What happens is that a team starts running out of time or they decide their game isn’t “long enough” or “challenging enough”, so they artificially extend it. I don’t support the idea, but it’s going to happen from now to time immemorial. If us designers could get away with telling the producers we need to have unique mini-bosses on every level, we probably would.

5. Letting You Fight Fights You Are Intended To Lose
Boy, I sure loved this in the Final Fantasy games where I used all my damn potions and power-ups trying to beat unbeatable bosses. This isn’t to say it can’t be done well (I haven’t played God of War 2 yet), but the idea itself isn’t fun. Players get frustrated when they feel they have to win but cannot.

7. Breaking the Fourth Wall
This one is dicey. While it is clever sometimes, you really have to plan for it. Do you want to throw away all your immersion on this? It is a point of no return. Once Metal Gear Solid‘s Psycho Mantis starts talking to you about your memory card saves, you’ve lost any opportunity (at least within the next few hours) of realistic drawing a player in. In Animal Crossing it is fine because it constantly reminds you that you are in a game. In Ico it wouldn’t be so welcome. So this one is open for discussion.8. Moving the Controller

10. Vengeance is Mine
I don’t even understand this one, honestly. I guess he is saying that he wants more opportunities to “get to higher ground” to swing the odds from against you to against them. Full Spectrum Warrior was completely about this. Splinter Cell is completely about this. So I don’t know how underused it really is.

14. Better Level Themes
This one is sort of substance-less. Besides the Metroid games, I really haven’t seen much of the elemental level theming (with The Simpsons Game‘s ironic use of it aside). Look at the Ratchet and Clank games. Look at Bioshock. There are plenty of games with unique memorable level theming. You have to get out of the paradigm of thinking it’s “The ___ Level”. That’s why ice levels / forest levels /etc. are so boring. The level should boil down to something more than a scenery choice.

17. Economy of Design
This pretty much contradicts #15. Which do you want? More objects to interact with your toys throughout the game or specific instances to use your toys so they don’t wear thin?

19. Telling the End of the Story
This is a narrative device that is overused in movies and I hope it doesn’t catch on in games. The reason it is usually used is because the story doesn’t have a strong enough beginning. That was the case in God of War and is probably why it feels successful. The story is fairly weak until about 2/3 of the way through the game. That’s why the beginning has to act as a teaser. I’d rather the beginning be strong than overuse this device.20. Falling Action / Playable Denouement
He ends on a good note here because I think this is a solid idea. However, it raises the question as to when the player is supposed to quit. You can have this amazing climax to a story and end it after a short denouement or you can have a playable denouement where the “story” extends until the player feels they have done everything, becomes bored and turns the game off. The problem with the latter however, is that everyone who beats the game will end feeling bored. This happened to me in the Shivering Isles expansion to Oblivion. I finished the fantastic adventure and then tried exploring the island more only to find there was nothing else for this demigod. So like Kratos, I went to the highest peak of the Isles, jumped off and turned off the console. I know when you have a great experience you don’t want to leave, but sometimes a well-chosen punctuation really sells the story (and can set up a sequel).

In the interests of being helpful and not just taking an e-dump on someone’s ideas, I offer some of my own:

1. Deeper Narrative Themes
Games don’t have to have deep narrative themes (Mario, Tetris, &c.,) but the ones that purport to replace movies need to have them. Off the top of my head, I have a hard time coming up with the themes of many story-driven games. Silent Hill comes to mind. God of War, too. Half-Life gets good marks. Portal even. But we have a hard time discussing the meaning of game stories because they are generally so shallow. This isn’t a game mechanic per se, but it applies to the game mechanics being implemented.

2.  Infinite Save Points
Let me save anywhere. I know you can do it. I don’t always have the time to make my way back to the bathrooms, I’m looking at you Dead Rising. Allow me to turn off the game whenever I like. You can make it that I can only resume from that save once and then I have to find one of your confounding save points for reasons of challenge if you must, but give me that option. Anywhere I can pause, I should be able to save.

3.  Interesting Loading Screens / Credits Screens
Nobody ever wants to see loading screens or credit screens because they are boring. So make them un-boring. Meteos, Katamari Damacy,and Portal all had excellent credits scrolls. Say what you will about the elevator loading screens in Mass Effect, they are better than watching a loading bar fill up. I think Namco holds a patent of some sort on interactive loading screens, so that may be an issue.

4. Less Walking/ Monotonous Travel
Oblivion nailed this. They had a vast world that could have easily been bogged down by having to walk to every location. Instead, you only had to travel to a place once (which in itself was interesting) and then you could warp there from any point forward. One of the things I am getting sick with in Mass Effect is the amount of slo-ass walking I have to do. The same goes for Assassin’s Creed. Tell me again what makes the Kingdom area worthwhile?

5. Integrated Achievements
Achievements aren’t something to be tacked on because it is a TCR. Orange Box did a great job integrating the achievement experience into the game. There was a non-blade menu for them where you could not only view the achievements, but monitor your progress. Uncharted, which I haven’t played but only read about, despite being on a system that doesn’t support achievements, has a set that also unlocks hidden game content. Yes! Give me another reason to jump through your hoops besides the nerd badge and I’ll sign right up as long as the payout is worthwhile.

Any other ideas?

4 thoughts on “A Dime a Dozen

  1. A. Video Playback Controls on Cutscenes
    I would like to be able to pause, rewind, fast-forward, and skip. I’ve heard of games that do this, but there aren’t many.

  2. I’m going to bring up smash brothers melee and add a few with it. But first, a supporting point from melee.

    End Credits – make a mini game out of the credits and give me the ability to pause at will and read about people or just zip through the whole thing = awesome

    Local Multiplayer – the more the merrier

    Items to Collect – the trophies are awesome, I want tons of detailed and varied items that I can inspect at will. Other game that do this in some fashion: Metroid Prime Series, Pikmin 2, Gran Turismo Series

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