Thursday 29 November 2007

20 Underused Game Mechanics

In the spirit of everyone else doing '20 game clichés we thought we'd repeat for you' lists at the moment, I've written a 20 under-used game mechanics list that'll hopefully at least give you some game design suggestions. No pictures - I don't want to pad out the reading time unnecessarily. Feel free to digg this, irregardless of that fact.

1. Asymmetric Co-op
: The game has a playable co-op mode, but the second player has different abilities from the first. Whether it's collecting star fragments, shooting colour drops or rising out of the ground to bust heads, allowing a second player to drop in for some lighter entertainment without needing the l33t skillz of the main gamer in the room is a sure-fire winner.

Idea from: Wizball. Druid. Super Mario Galaxy.

2. Bad-Ass Boss Fight: You want to know how tough the bad guy is? Play as him, before you fight him. Then you can really justify your inability to beat him.

Idea from: Marvel Nemesis: The Rise of the Imperfects.

3. Design Your Own: Design the dungeon, then play through it. You can't blame anyone else for the problems with the architecture.

Idea from: Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground.
Who raved about it: Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine.

4. Not Re-Using Mini-bosses: You've all had those games when you get to the mini-boss, and have to pull out the stops to beat them. Then, on the next level, the same mini-boss is back. Multiple times. The idea is as old as Ghosts'n'Goblins. Well here's another idea. Don't.

Idea from: Darwinia.
Who raved about it: Kieren Gillon in Eurogamer.

5. Letting You Fight Fights You're Intended to Lose: You've been betrayed by Athena and shrunk back from god-like dimensions to normal size. Then Zeus sucks the rest of your power out of you by tricking you into channelling it into a sword. You're left weak and bleeding, unable to even move faster than a stagger. And still you have to fight.

Idea from: God of War II.
Who raved about it:
N'Gai Croal in the inaugural Vs mode discussion.

6. Interactive Cut-Scenes (But not Quick Time Events): If you're going to be stuck in cut-scenes telling part of the story, you may as well make them interactive. And I'm not talking about hiding unimplemented game-play behind a Quick Time Event - I'm talking about looking down Eva's top in Metal Gear Solid 3, or completely changing the outcome of the final cut scene in Soul Calibur.

Idea from: Soul Calibur.

7. Breaking the Fourth Wall: Whether it was showing you the Game Over screen prematurely, or telling you that you've been playing long enough, there's not enough games that break the fourth wall and talk to you the player, as opposed to the character you're playing. Or for that matter, deceive gamers about which character they'll end up playing.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid 2.
Who raved about it: Tim Rogers in "dreaming in an empty room"

8. Moving the Controller: And if there was one way to really break the fourth wall, it was for a computer game to reach out and cause your controller to move without you touching it. A heart-stopping moment for many a game-player. Not enough games make you look on the jewel case for clues these days either.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid.
Who raved about it: Practically everyone who played the game.

9. Upwards Preference: Get the player to look up early in the game. Use it to figure out whether they prefer regular or inverted mouse-look. It's not a hard thing to do. So why do so few games do it? (I know this is an Xbox console setting now. Hiding the option elsewhere in the user interface still doesn't solve it though.)

Idea from: King Kong.

10. Vengeance is Mine: First you sneak past them, then you kill them. It could be a Tyrannosaurus Rex in King Kong, or a gang of Outlaws in Call of Juarez. The opportunity to turn the tables and lay the smack down is not one to be missed.

Idea from: Call of Juarez.
Who raved about it: Kieron Gillen in Eurogamer.

11. Seeing the Consequences: Re-encountering the same scene as from a different point of view suddenly gives you a whole new perspective on events. Half-Life gives you the opportunity to go back to the Xen teleport chamber in both expansions, while Fahrenheit and Call of Juarez allow you to see the same scenes as both the pursued and the pursuers.

Idea from: Fahrenheit.
Who raved about it: Michael Filby from

12. Setting the Environment on Fire:
Sure, physics engines are great. And destructible environments will be 'teh next-gen' as soon as they catch technology up with the likes of X-Com. And you can set fire to enemies in lots of games. But nothing goes better with marshmallows than watching half a hillside go up in smoke from a single match. Games should bring the pyromaniac out in all of us. There needs to be more first-person shooters in burning buildings as well.

Idea from: King Kong.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.

13. Playing with Scale: There's nothing quite like scaling tall buildings, crushing people beneath your feet and watching the screaming multitudes fleeing in front of you. Psychonauts? King Kong? Katamari Darmacy? The end of God of War? Pick one - they're all good at it. The re-use of the sword level in God of War is a particular standout - arguably one of the best level designs ever.

Idea from: Katamari Damacy
Who raved about it: Tom Bramwell in Eurogamer.

14. Better Level Themes: You've played games with the lava level. The ice level. The sewer level. Well how about a game with the Milkman level? The disco level. The Escher level. The Meat Circus level. Welcome to Psychonauts.

Idea from: Psychonauts.
Who raved about it: Yahtzee throws down the praise and back-hands you.

15. Designing the Level to Let You Use Your Toys: Bridge littered with the debris of cars moved into make-shift blockades. Check. Concrete barriers behind which terrorists are cowering. Check. An M203 grenade launcher and enough ammunition to take all of them out. Check. Survival horrors and low ammunition be damned. If you give me something shiny, I want to be able to play with it to my hearts content. Shame on those games that give you sniper rifles without suitable draw distances, or rocket launchers in twisty corridors.

Idea from: Black.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.

16. Adding Things to Photographs: The photograph collection mechanic has been used well - arguably over-used in some games. But the photographs tend to turn up - well, just like you took them. What you really want is a game where the photos you take, and the resulting pictures have disparate elements - ghosts in the background, missing objects, weird aliens like in They Live. It could be a whole mechanic in itself, but sadly, just a nice Easter egg in the example below.

Idea from: Metal Gear Solid 2.

17. Economy of Design: Stop using a game-mechanic when it stops being interesting. We've played with the toys - it's time to put them back in the pram and move on. The whole of Portal is an exercise in economy of design - once you've learnt how to do something, you're only ever asked a few times to expand on it. I mean, the weighted companion cube appears on one freakin' level and already has its own fan clubs. So is some of the mechanics in Half-Life 2 - in particular the pheropod.

Idea from: Portal
Who raved about it: Every game journalist this year.

18. Annotating Maps: The in-game map - an abused and reviled mechanic if there ever was one. The only way to pep it up is to let you draw on it like you used to as a kid. And if you're really lucky, mum will let you put it in the oven afterwards so it can curl up and look, like, really old...

Idea from: Zelda: The Phantom Hour-Glass.
Who raved about it: Tom Bramwell in Eurogamer.

19. Telling the End of the Story First: Kratos stands at the edge of a cliff. He is heavy with despair. He slumps forward, taking a final step and tumbling into the abyss towards the rocks below. Sure, they cheated in the end with a deus ex machina. But you want to find out how such a kick-ass character wanted to top himself. Hell, build a game where you're forced to fail a scenario, go back three years earlier, and then have to replay the events, with additional information that'll help you beat it the second time around.

Idea from: God of War.
Who raved about it: Kristan Reed in Eurogamer.

20. Falling Action / Playable Denouement: You've saved the world. Just seen the biggest explosion ever. Fled out of the castle as it crumbles around you. And the credits roll. Well, howabout for once, let you actually enjoy the moment. Kratos gets to run up to the steps to Mount Olympus. Call of Duty 4 goes all slow-mo on you. Grand Theft Auto - well, it never gets dull.

Idea from: Grand Theft Auto.
Who raved about it: Stephen Totilo in MTV Multiplayer.


NeoTechni said...

"18. Annotating Maps"

I hated that with a burning passion. It was just excuse to use the touchscreen. I much prefer the way normal games like Silent Hill Origins and all previous Zelda games do it, by putting the doodles on the map by itself.

Kest said...

"2. Bad-Ass Boss Fight"

This shows up more than once in "Legacy of Kain - Defiance".

Worthstream said...

3. Design Your Own
This is actually why i voted "Dwarf fortress a couple of polls ago. You build a fully functional fortess, with kitchens, barracks, armory and everything else, then you use it, and then *spoiler* and you get to play the ruins of your fortress as a dungeon more realistic than any generated one!

Cory said...

1. Asymmetric Co-op

Back in the days of the Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 employed this feature, where a second player could run around as Tails. Every time they died Tails would just fly back on screen, and you could even help Sonic by having him hang on to Tails as you fly to hidden areas.

Yserbius said...

The whole 'ending first' which you attribute to GoW is really an integral part of 'Max Payne' (1 and 2). And excellently done, mind you.

Phasma Felis said...

Metal Arms had an interesting sort of inversion of #2, Bad-Ass Boss Fight. Skyscraper-sized robot monster General Corrosive is entirely invincible to your mightiest after several humiliating encounters, you get to find his secret command console and control him against his own army. Turns out he's just as invincible to their weapons, and is big enough to literally stomp the game's nastiest enemies flat. That's some catharsis there.

The Mad Tinkerer said...

"Interactive Cut-Scenes (But not Quick Time Events)"

If you play the Half Life series at all, this is an OVER-used mechanic (but in a good way). I never get tired of playing through the the Red Letter Day of HL2 for this reason. Also see Left4Dead, where procedurally generated dialogue "vignettes" play at different times.

droqen said...

18. Annotating Maps

Etrian Odyssey <3

Unknown said...

"18. Annotating Maps"


I still don't understand why Minecraft hasn't implemented this.

Yes, I understand how old this post is, but it's still valid 5 years later.

Unknown said...

"18. Annotating Maps"


I still don't understand why Minecraft hasn't implemented this.

Yes, I understand how old this post is, but it's still valid 5 years later.