Thank You For Playing

Amateur game design for the technically impaired

Expected Gameplay Mechanics Part 1

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I have decided to discuss common game play mechanics found throughout games. For the most part, I will be speaking in generalities. I will also be discussing commercial as well as Indie games. The purpose of this post is to discuss familiar gameplay mechanics that most games share and to perhaps avoid some of these cliche mistakes in the future.


This most may sound like a bit of a rant, but it stems from a series of recurring themes and gameplay devices that I have noticed in my years of gaming. These things apply to most not all games.

  • Collecting Stuff
  • Difficulty
  • Points
  • Boss Fights
  • Save Points
  • Unlocking Characters in fighting games
  • Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Zombies

    Collecting Stuff
    Why do all games insist on making you collect random amounts of arbitrary shit? Platform games are notorious for this. Sonic for example makes you collect 100 rings in exchange for one extra life. What is the significance of rings, and the number 100 for that matter? I mean, you really only need one coin at any given time to survive just about anything.

    Sonic1 In terms of mainstream gaming, the only solutions game designers have come up with as challenges to these types of games are more stuff to collect (ugh), bigger levels (more getting lost), and tons of enemies (tiresome hack and slash).


    Imagine a story where the protagonist had to collect 100 apples in order to save a princess. Were would he keep them all anyway?


    Maybe the significance of collecting things is to provide the player with some sort extra objective to go along with transversing the various pitfalls, spikes, goombas and robotic fish throughout the levels. The problem with this approach is that most players ignore these objects and go right for the goal. The only places where I have seen this work is if X amount of gems are required to advance the particular level or open a door. Some games even offer some sort of 100% completion incentive. (Too bad most of the time you just end up unlocking sound test modes, or concept art.)



    I have also played my fair share of MMORPG’s to know that I loathe collection quests. World of Warcraft is the first game that comes to mind.


    Questgiver: “Please collect 10 wolf bloods for my soup!”


    Orc: “Don’t you think you have enough wolf blood soup?”



    Difficulty Three is a significant number in literature and most games. Games generally offer you three lives, most bosses take three hits, and most worlds have three levels. There must be some physiological significance to why all developers insist on the three lives approach to gaming. Granted this is just a generalization but we as gamers have come to expect this significance in our games. Or maybe is it that designers just keep putting arbitrary things in games?


    Most games require some sort of trial and error approach in order to get a feel for playing a certain level or learning enemy attack patterns. Perhaps this is why a designer would offer you a set amount of lives; to give you a chance to explore.


    We as designers should step away from the lives system and install an alternate form of punishment for dying or losing. I am going to take a page from Within a Deep Forest, each level has check points scattered throughout them. You cannot save at these points, they just offer a temporary re-spawn place in case you die. If you restart the game, you must play the entire level over. There is no incentive to turn off the game and reload save points.

    Another approach to the no lives system is to have two modes, one for casual gamers (infinite lives) and one for hardcore gamers (few lives).


    Points are usually insignificant in single player games. It was a way of determining who was better at the respective game. High score lists where kept locally on arcade machines and players would compete for the top spots. There was no real way of direct head to head competition. We are past the days of playing against a computer for a high-score (and sadly of arcades too).

    (I recommend watching King of Kong, a brief history of that gaming era.) Supposed top gamers would fly from all over the country to play each other at arcades. There was no real organized way to determine who actually where the top players besides word of mouth. Players accused each other of cheating and using hacked machines, it was a mess.


    Competition among gamers is better handled directly through online play. Games such as Starcraft and Counter-Strike have exploded the on-line gaming communities.


    Boss Fights
    Here is the recipe for a boss fight.

    1 Oversized Enemy


    Preheat level to 400. (Can sometimes be replaced by inserting a “heads-up save point”)

    1. Attack and move in a predictable pattern.

    2. Stay invincible until you do your special attack.

    3. After attacking show your weakness. (Usually located on the top of your head, or on your stomach)

    4. Repeat 2 more times.


    Save Points
    Once save points became invented, games have become impossible to lose. Games are becoming less and less like challenges and more like just something you experience because it has a bullet time gimmick or something. Save points are great for RPG’s. They are perfect right after those long un-skipable cut-scenes or right before a boss battle. However, save points can be exploited by offering these infinite trial and error opportunities. It is up to the discretion of the gamer whether he is cheating or not. Most of the times he/she wont care. It’s the responsibility of the designer to make sure save points are appropriately placed.

    I like the Mega Man approach to saving. You are given passwords that let you start after any level you want. Each level acts as its own entity. While you cant save in the levels, you are still required to advance through them with a limited number of tries. Losing only means that you have to re-enter the password, not start the entire game over.


    Unlocking Characters in Fighting Games
    As a hardcore fan of fighting games, I try to avoid playing the AI as much as possible. As a matter of fact, If I’m playing alone I’m usually just practicing execution of moves in a training mode. Fighting games should not extend their replay value by making you repetitively beat the game with all the characters to unlock more. Everyone knows all you have to do is set the game to ultra easy and round timer to as low as it goes. Boring!

    All of the characters should be available right at the start. This lets players jump right into the game, especially if your playing with friends (most people) and someone forgot their memory card.


    Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Zombies

    Unless you work for Tecmo or Capcom you should not be placing Ninjas, Pirates, Robots or Zombies in your games. Freddy Vs. Jason was a bad Idea. Pirates Vs. Ninjas Dodgeball is another bad idea.




    Written by brunokruse

    April 1, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    One Response

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    1. Pssh, you act as if all games must be exactly the same. Collecting things is okay, as long as it’s not forced. Stepping away from the live system is great, especially if you’re trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Points can add to a game, giving people their own goal to reach, instead of some arbitrary game goal. For boss fights, you must have not fought many bosses. SEE: Treasure. Also, there’s nothing especially wrong with that kind of boss fight, and it can be fun, or they wouldn’t do it. I agree with your save point opinion. Unlocking characters is great, if it’s not done by mindless fighting. Is their something horrible about getting a surprise bonus as you play? Robots/Pirates/Zombies/Ninjas are all fine beasts, just easily corrupted.

      Fishy Boy

      April 14, 2008 at 1:33 am

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