Development blog No2 - Core game mechanics

Blog | January 2015

Sooo... it’s that time again. Well, core game mechanics are a big topic, I’ll try to keep it light.

What ever are game mechanics?

Ah! Good question! The game mechanics are the way the game is going to be played. That is very the core identity of the game and the interaction between the piece of software and the player. Put it simply, game mechanics are everything that is not graphics, music or sound (although it has to employ these to communicate with the player).

So in Tetris for example, game mechanics are the fact that shapes are coming from the top and moving to the bottom at increasing speed, while making lines by rotating and moving the pieces destroy these lines and give you points... does it feel like I’ve describe the whole of Tetris? Yes it does. That’s exactly my point, game mechanics are the game.

Nowadays, people feel like a game is the bling, the layer of sound, music and explosions. From a game designer’s point of view, it couldn’t be more false. A game is an experience, and although it feels like what you experience as a gamer is the graphics and the sound, a bad game mechanics will show itself a lot more than a good one.

For example, say you have a character that has two modes, one for running, one for fighting, and you can either hit an opponent or jump because jump is a function of the running mode... well, this is piss-poor game mechanics.

If in a game, you can’t do something that comes naturally to you, the function of the game is unclear or incoherent from one stage to the other, this is due to bad design, or bad mechanics.

So, what’s Cutie’s mechanics

Cutie BoïngBoïng is meant to be a 2D platformer game with a twist (or two). The core mechanics is, when you play the game, you cannot move the character - except for making it jump - you can only rotate the set, and the character rolls under the effects of gravity and inertia.

This is it. But...

From a design point of view, James Portnow would have advised me to fail faster.
I have been spending a lot of time trying to make a game out of this. There are a few problems to consider:

  1. People are used to things : This is so true. I see people watching the set rotating in my game and watching the character slowly start to roll, and they start pressing the left key, asking "why is it not going faster?"... too used to the Mario/Sonic style of play, ergonomics would dictate that this game be more like them... but what of introducing a new gameplay style? well, it becomes a political statement, more than an actual design choice.
  2. Precision is required: When doing a plateformer, what is more aggravating than a character that slides on the ground for a pixel or two after you pressed the button... now, question becomes: how to provide a repeatable experience if the motion of the character is physics driven?
  3. Design for mechanics: no matter what, design with your mechanics in mind. If your mechanics are unusual, your level design will be unusual too.

Underlying condition

There’s a problem there. When you want to do something unusual [1], you will have to suffer the consequences. That may mean rewriting physics module (or adapting them) to suite your needs, or like for Monument Valley [2], you may need to manage your whole design system to take into account the weird paradigm of your game.

And that’s where things became problematic for me, at least with game mechanics. I wanted to jump from colliders at their angle (because I’m rolling around, stuff are bound not to be horizontal at some point). To achieve that was no simple task [3] and took a month to get to work.

Now, I’m faced with another problem, I have to know when I’m in contact with the ground however, the ground may be anywhere 360° around the character [4].

I’m also faced with a design problem: what is the game going to look like. I tried doing nice curvy artwork, but now, you can barely notice the set being rotated.

Tough choices ahead.

[1and hopefully, you are, or you’re doing it wrong

[2yep, I like this game, get over it

[3I had to create a system that places colliders on a curve, giving each of them a rotation that is used to compute their normal

[4This one is the one I’m working on at the moment


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