Common Mechanics in Video Games
In this Topic we are going to take a closer look at some common, or standard, mechanics in existing games. First we will examine the goals of the mechanic and then determine if the mechanic is “meaningful” in terms of achieving those goals. Finally, for each category of mechanic, we will look at some examples where mechanics failed in a game or were successful and innovative
Puzzles are great mechanics for video games. They are perfect tools to achieve design goals in that a well-structured puzzle has clear objectives, clear rules-of-play, and a clear path to improvement of skill. They are also easy to scale difficulty to always offer a challenge to players. One of the most popular and successful puzzle games of all time is Tetris. Its design creates “addictive play” because it constantly stimulates the brain’s play impulses. Puzzles can also be integrated into other game genres to add gameplay and depth. Role-Playing Games (RPGs) are great examples where puzzles can add to the other mechanics in the game for a richer and more varied experience.
The game Portal is a terrific example of blending puzzle elements with a first-person shooter game. In doing so, it innovated how gameplay with puzzles can be new and original. It also integrated a deep storyline and even characters into puzzles.
Combat is one of the most common and most diverse mechanics in video games. It perfectly utilizes the design philosophy of Objectives (in-game goals), Conflicts (in-game challenges that must be overcome to obtain objectives), and Outcomes (results of conflict). It blends well with character and story for immersion. It also adapts well to the learning curve of skill acquirement that keeps players motivated and interested. Combat can also be structured in many different styles of gameplay. First-person shooter combat is vastly different in gameplay than a real-time strategy war game. Combat mechanics could encompass one-on-one sword-fighting, massive battlefield campaigns, martial arts, and perhaps hundreds of others.
Halo, at the time of its release in late 2001, was hailed as a near perfect demonstration of video game combat mechanics. It seamlessly blended art, story, character, environments, and combat to create a rich and immersive world. Later, other mechanics, such as cover (the ability to hide behind an object) became innovations of combat games from the Halo era.
Simulation games utilize mechanics that mimic real-life experiences. They can include machine Simulations, such as driving cars or flying jet planes, or they can simulate societal events like, world exploration or conquest. Most are interested in creating mechanics that are complex enough to emulate actual complexities of real-life. For example, Civilization V has mechanical structures for complexity and depth of play: food production, human resources, natural resources, economics, science, war, etc. Each of these options creates a cause and effect on each other. It is important to balance how each element affects other elements to create a Simulation that is as realistic as possible but still allows for quality gameplay. For this type of Simulation, a good user interface is crucial. For machine simulators, the mechanical focus is on precision. When the player hits the button to make the car go forward, it has to feel like the control is connected to the car as if the player is actually driving a car. In this regard, reactive controls become a key part of many Simulation games.
Role-Playing games put the player in someone (or something) else’s shoes and allows them to imagine what it would be like to live someone else’s life. This premise is often made more intriguing by making that life take place in a wondrous and mysterious world. Often the mechanical goals of a Role-Playing game are drawn from the fantasy world and story line that is created for the game. For example, the in-game mechanics of a medieval fantasy world of sword and sorcery are going to be quite different than a modern world of fashion and careers. Either way, most of the mechanics are going to emphasis exploration of the world and interacting with the players, NPCs and objects within the world. This interaction often integrates additional mechanics such as puzzles and combat. That said, character development is the mechanic that is most unique and important in Role-Playing Games.
There are many different ways to express character development through mechanics; remember, though, the goals are the same as just about any other video game. As video game designers we want to have the player quickly recognize how to navigate through the game world and how to improve the skills needed to succeed in the game.
The Fantasy Role-Playing game series, The Elder Scrolls, is a terrific example of using multiple mechanics that allow a player to explore and develop skills within a world.. The series offers combat, exploration, character improvement, and an in-game economy.