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MA Game Design: Game Mechanics (1/2) & Early Ideas Feedback

Hey all you cool cats and kittens (remember that part of lockdown with Tiger King? That was pretty weird).

This week, we focused on game mechanics for most of the class before turning out attention to the assignment. Since its been made available for some time now, some of us (myself included) have already had a read through the brief and started brainstorming ideas. It also means I was able to get some feedback on my ideas today, so that's what we're gonna be talking about!


Game Mechanics

Our session on game mechanics has been broken up into 2 classes, hence why you see the "1/2" in the title of this post. To start, we discussed finite state machines or FSMs within video games and how these can be helpful as a designer trying to visually convey the flow of gameplay to other members of your team, like programmers. As for what game mechanics actually are, its the rules, processes, and data that exist within the game. These are, generally, invisible to the player, and their purpose is to help make the game fun, challenging, and balanced to keep players engaged and happy.

Game mechanics will generally be comprised of the following elements:

  • Mechanics - something a player interacts with, e.g. opening a door

  • Hazards - dangers in the environment like spike traps or moving platforms

  • Hazards with AI - computer enemies

  • Power-ups - ammo, extra lives, abilities

  • Collectibles - trophies, coins

Game mechanics can also be categorised into groups, and we see different genres of games making use of various categories:

  • Physics

  • Internal Economy

  • Progression Mechanisms

  • Tactical Maneuvering

  • Social Interaction

For example, real-time strategy / RTS games will have greater emphasis on the internal economy and tactical maneuvering categories, whereas a racing game will have more emphasis on the physics in order for elements in the game to feel cohesive and logical.

The internal economy is something that could be arguably found in nearly every type of game. The immediate thought would be to money or similar types of goods, much like real-world economics, but can also be extended to other features. Health and experience levels are one such, since the player needs to manage their health and use the experience to unlock (exchange it for) access to new mechanics like weapons or abilities. Time is also another form of economy, alongside many others. A lot of these are not things I would have previously considered as features which would fall under this category, but now that I am thinking about it, it almost feels obvious that these would be!

Later in the session, we went over the importance of mapping levels out fairly and appropriately to help guide the player through the game. In the past, invisible walls would act as a boundary to stop the player from going too far off the intended path. These can still be used today, but it is generally better to incorporate these into the world design. So we might use an actual wall to indicate to players that they cannot access areas beyond it.

Games with large open worlds may use things like mountain ranges or the sea instead. These types of games will also have various enemies in the world, some of which are too powerful at first for the player to defeat. This discourages them from challenging those enemies until later on, when they are more powerful and prepared, helping to guide them along an intended route. I know that for most of my previous work, I have tried to improve my understanding and implementation of level designs whilst considering how to guide players. Some cases were more successful than others, such as in Aorus where the player is kept inside of a sphere. If they try to go beyond said sphere, they will instead be moved to the opposite side so that they will begin to fly inwards and towards the enemies again.


Progressive and Emergent Gameplay

We also went into some detail about what progressive and emergent gameplay is. A definition from PC Mag summarises what these are quite nicely:

A [progressive game is a] video game designed in levels whereby the player advances by completing a level and moving to the next. Progression-designed games have a known outcome based on a fixed set of accomplishments within each level. Contrast with "emergent gameplay," which has infinite outcomes because the players' actions determine the next scene. Games may have elements of both designs.

An example of a primarily progressive game would be something like the first Super Mario as you are playing to reach the end of the level and move on to the next. You will always be moving from the left side of the screen to the right, and not much changes whenever you repeat the game.

By contrast, Minecraft is the most famous example of a game that is heavy with emergent gameplay. Each time you play, nearly everything will be completely different - it is almost impossible to exactly repeat what you did previously because of the randomly generated worlds. There are infinite outcomes because, even though there is a 'goal' to defeat the Ender Dragon, you as the player determine what happens next.

Games can also contain a mixture of both, where there is both progressive and emergent gameplay. The Civilisation games provide both: you have the same goal to control the game world but in each playthrough you will very likely make different choices, e.g. building structures in a different order.


Proposals Feedback

At the end of the class, I managed to grab some time with our professor to get some feedback on a handful of proposals I had written up for the assignment. Knowing that the proposed game needs to connect to the theme of "Apart and Together", I found myself generally thinking inside the box and not outside of it. I had 3 ideas written up and 1 written down in a mind map, with each being totally distinct - 2 of them were actually recycled from the dissertation in my undergrad, since I could easily justify their connections to the theme.

Although both the professor and lecturer for this class warned us that they would be quite critical when giving feedback, I was pleasantly surprised to get mainly positive feedback from the professor on each of the ideas! A couple of them had some drawbacks, such as perhaps lacking enough depth, but 2 of the ideas have got some good potential. I won't reveal anything just yet since I plan to discuss the ideas with the lecturer on Monday, after that I will probably have a clearer idea of what I will be working on!

I will say that feedback on one of these ideas has some strong potential to become my final major project, or dissertation, for the Masters - which I would say is some pretty solid comments!


Closing Thoughts

It was a fairly brief summary of the events for this week, but I am trying to keep what I have learned to as short an explanation as possible so that these don't become insanely long posts! This may start changing in the coming weeks to be more focused on my designing for the assignment instead of highlighting in-class topics we have learned about, which should make for a more interesting read!

Anyways, thanks for reading and see you next week. Buh byyye! :)

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