Open Thread: Game mechanics

(by chris the cynic)

Some games (e.g. football/soccer) rely primarily on straightforward rules and the laws of physics to run.  And then much more complicated rules to prevent people from exploiting loopholes, deal with the fact that the laws of physics don’t prevent accidental rule breaking or intentional cheating, and so forth.

Other games, chess, D&D, whatever a really famous video game is, create their universe and in so doing provide their own laws of physics.

Both types of games have mechanics, but they’re more recognizable in the latter because you can’t respond to “Why why can’t a bishop move like a rook in chess?” the same way you respond to “Why can’t the players fly in football/soccer?” (Because gravity and the players can’t fly.)

Of course, why is a 1-0 victory in soccer the same as a 10-0 victory and a 10-9 victory has no such obvious answer, and so that’s much clearer as a game mechanic than “The players can’t leave the ground except by jumping, and human anatomy + earth gravity will limit how much they can be off the ground,” even though both apply.

In a video game everything has to be programmed in.  If you can jump it isn’t like in football/soccer; someone had to code that.  There are a lot of games were they didn’t.  Even something as simple as jumping is a game mechanic.  So is something as complex as being able to use social engineering to bluff your way into a place you’re not supposed to be instead of having a shoot out.

What game mechanics do you like?  Dislike?  What are game mechanics you think need to be used more or less.  What are game mechanics you’ve never seen but would like to?

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]


21 thoughts on “Open Thread: Game mechanics

  1. christhecynic February 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Honestly, jumping/climbing is a major thing for me in video games. The games I’ve been in where there’s a car (a giant car? no, a car on it’s side? no.) in the way of where I want to go but I can’t get there are just aggravating. I’m no action hero, but I can totally climb on the hood of a car if it will help me save the world.

    The ones were you can’t pass over a one or two foot high wall are just twisting the the knife. Assuming the knife is made of pure salt.

    – – –

    Sticking to video games,

    I tend to favor games that have problems over puzzles. The difference is that a puzzle has one so solution, so you have to figure out what the designers wanted you to do, while a problem just presents you with the hindrance, and trusts you to be able to use the tools at your disposal to deal with it. (Obviously this requires extensive testing to make sure various approaches can in fact work.)

    It’s more a design thing than a mechanic thing, but I don’t like the “we use the d-pad to choose weapons, so there are only four weapons” thing. When computer games started they used the keyboard and the number keys were the weapons. So you had ten (at least.) I like more options.

    If a game is going to be a realism chasing project (as opposed to fun and explosions where problems can be solved through senseless violence) then I really favor games that have a conversation system implemented so you can actually try reasonable approaches.

    There’s an old game called “Drakan: Order of the Flame” in which you played a dragon rider, it was far from perfect, but I really liked being able to switch between on foot and on dragon and so forth.

    That’s probably enough for now.

  2. lonespark42 February 20, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    …and then there’s Calvinball…

  3. lonespark42 February 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I like video games, esp. arcade games but now Wii has similar things, where you actually hold a gun and shoot Things, usually Bad Guys, and PowerUps, etc… Or if you get to hold a sword that’s even better! And bows are good too…

    I’m big into the sensory experience. I feel like they have only recently begum developing games and VR capabilities generally to make it where a game can motivate me to get it set up and also sustain my interest…but of course most of that stuff is not yet available 3rd hand from the thrift shop…

    I love 3D board games for similar reasons, but I am crap at keeping them organized and therefore lose and break vital components…

  4. Funaria February 22, 2016 at 2:24 am

    I’ve always been a fan of role-playing games, but they can get repetitive after a while so I like it when games switch up the rules of battle. I still prefer turn-based systems, but the basic formula can be spiced up with something as simple as a stronger attack or block if you press the button at the right time (as in Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, or Southpark: Stick of Truth).
    I really like Puzzle Quest, which had you and the enemy take turns on a Bejeweled type board. Matching gems of a certain colour gave you that colour mana (which you could then use to cast spells which could affect the board or the enemy), and matching skulls dealt damage to the enemy. It was a neat balance of getting mana you wanted, denying the enemy the mana they wanted, and trying to avoid setting up good combos for the enemy.

  5. depizan February 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    As far as video games go, I’m mainly an MMO player, since I’m not actually very good at video games. MMOs definitely have their downsides (what doesn’t), but they are generally easier than regular computer video games. And there’s always the possibility of getting help if you do stumble on something you can’t do on your own. (Yes, I play MMOs by myself, mostly. I realize that’s kind of doing it wrong, but I don’t really care.)

    As far as game mechanics go, I do have a (typical of MMO players) hatred of the evils of random number generators (though they hate me in table top games as well*), because, generally speaking, I prefer do X, get Y to do X for a chance to get Y. How much I mind depends a lot on the fun to annoying ratio of X. If X is largely enjoyable regardless of the chance to get Y, then, eh, well, not a big deal. If X is largely annoying and not something I would do, except to get Y, then I start wanting to zap the designers with my mind.

    I also share your annoyance with insurmountable waist high walls and the general inability of video game characters to climb things. There are other ways to put edges on the sandbox, people. I expect my video game heroes to be able to do everything I can do and cool video game stuff.

    On the things I really, really like side… I have liked stealth mechanics from my very first MMO. Even though it wasn’t really to my advantage in City of Heroes (since not defeating swathes of enemies meant losing out on huge quantities of XP), I really enjoyed playing my Illusion Controler and just stealthing past everything I possibly could. The mission where I stealthed my way in, flash blinded the guy next to the MacGuffen, grabbed it, and got out of there was the crowning moment of awesome for me.

    Hell, I spend a remarkable amount of time sneaking around mobs even on my non-stealth characters in SW:TOR. (I do it some in WoW and Guild Wars 2, but I don’t feel like the agro radius in ether of those games is as consistent. I have a very good feel for SW:TOR’s.) I realize there is probably something a bit off about playing games designed around mowing ones way through mooks by sneaking around them as much as possible, but I don’t care. I find avoiding combat more satisfying (most of the time) than engaging in it.

    I’ve also found, thanks to SW:TOR, that games that allow you to talk down enemies, convince them to go and sin no more, or otherwise win with words are really super fun. My only complaint is that there’s still not enough of that in SW:TOR. And that being able to talk down major opponents means that one really ought to be able to bypass fighting everyone else. (Reason number two why I do more combat avoidance there than in GW2 and WoW.) It would feel more thematically consistent to sneak in, talk to the enemy leader and either get them to surrender or fight just them. As opposed to slaughtering my way in and then trying to talk the enemy leader into surrendering.

    It’s not that I completely dislike combat. I enjoy it a lot when it’s super cool looking (one of the reasons I play a Thief in GW2, even though I keep somersaulting myself off of stuff, is because their moves just look so damn cool.). And I enjoy it well enough in general. It’s that I enjoy stealth and talking my way out and other stuff more. I would play a game that was all stealth and diplomacy. I probably wouldn’t play a game that truly was nothing but combat.

    *No, really. I have gone entire D&D campaigns without ever rolling a two digit number. I’m pretty sure that defies the rules of probability in some way.

  6. Firedrake February 23, 2016 at 5:24 am

    (You will I trust excuse me if I now picture depizan as a wandering samurai with a sword across hir back.)

    One of the reasons I like non-computer RPGs is that with a human game-master you can try anything. You want to negotiate with the dragon rather than fight it? Sure, no problem, and it doesn’t matter if the game designer thought of it beforehand.

  7. arbitrary_greay February 23, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    I loathe lottery mechanics. Which is why I hate most board games that involve dice. My first game of Diplomacy ensured that I will probably never play another game of fucking Risk.

    I kind of like curb-stomping my way through video games? I love the first few levels of most RPGs, where I over-grind so that I’m ahead of the difficulty curve, and I love one-shotting early bosses in a New Game +. Yes, good games will give grinding diminishing returns, which I understand, but I prefer that be via an experience cap, where sooner than later you just max out and XP goes away, rather than in Pokemon, where about halfway through Johto, grinding was both agonizingly slow and yet still necessary. I was having to pull all sorts of elemental weaknesses to scrape through gym battles on the skin of my teeth, even after spending way too much time grinding due to low XP return, and that was really annoying and giving me “what even is the point” anti-motivation feels.
    There’s a satisfaction to mastery/optimization and extra work actually, you know, paying off.

  8. genesistrine February 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    I’m very fond of the concept of fairy chess, though being a terrible chess strategist I can’t actually play it.

    But the idea of changing and generalising the mechanics – new pieces, extended movesets, different boards – really enchants me.

  9. christhecynic February 23, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Oh god, chess. I can’t play it worth a damn, but I’m it love with it and its variations.

    I have in my mind a chess variant that is truly absurd: Solar System Chess.

    You see, there’s a game for Jupiter already and likewise ones for Mercury and Mars (also some of the moons of Jupiter) so…

    One just needs to create a mechanic for moving pieces between the boards* and games for *deep breath*
    –the Moon
    –Ceres and the Asteroid Belt
    –The Galilean moon of Jupiter that doesn’t have a game yet
    –the moons thereof
    –the moons thereof
    –Triton (only moon of Neptune large enough for us to consider)
    –Pluto and the Kuiper belt
    –Sedna and the Scattered Disk
    –Eris and the Detached Objects
    –the undiscovered planet if Batygin and Brown are right that it’s out there
    –and of course the planet Nibiru whose coming will doom us all (they play Nemoroth there.)

    Oh, also rules for how armies interact when they switch boards**. Then once you’ve got all of that, all you’ll need is an opponent who is off kilter enough to actually be willing to play with you. (Or it could be a team thing.)

    Well, there’s also a question of why the players on a quick board (e.g. Mercury) would stick around until the entire solar system was decided. So we might want to make a rule where emptying a board of enemy pieces allows you to repopulate your army through drops. (Drops are totally a thing, so why not?)

    And then the rebuilt army could go off to make war on another board so we come to the idea of colonizing … and did I mention that sanity does not lie down this road?

    * Two interplanetary rockets per board per side. Rockets start the game “in space” (not on any board)

    Rockets can drop to any empty space on the board they are “orbiting” (this takes a turn) and when they leave the board (returning to orbit) they take any friendly pieces on the eight surrounding squares with them. (this also takes a turn)

    Moving between boards takes one turn per board (Mercury to Venus = 1 turn, Mercury to Mars = 3 turns) and then they have to take an additional turn to land (thus depositing any carried pieces)

    Landing or taking off counts as a turn on the affected board. Starting a rocket in orbit from its origin board to its destination board does not cost a turn because it it does not have an effect upon the board.

    ** Light pieces take order from light royalty, dark pieces from dark royalty. This is true regardless of which board the pieces or the royalty started off on. Each color has one turn per royal piece on a given board in a given round. If there are no royal pieces the color may not make a move on that board. If there are N royal pieces then the color may make N moves.

    If there are more than two players (teams are in effect) then the players retain control of royal pieces they start with/create, even when they switch boards. They may thus play on multiple boards per round if they have multiple royal pieces.

    The exception to all of this is are the armies of Alabaster and Obsidian from Nibiru. They are beyond provincial concepts such as royalty. They answer to no master and the player from Nibru may, and must, make one move on each board one of their Nemoroth pieces is on. If the player is unable to move on even one of the occupied boards, the players army is broken. The shattered remnants of the army will obey whatever provincial ruler matches their color. (Nemoroth has no royal pieces, it operates on a compulsion rule.)

  10. genesistrine February 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm


    Poor left-out Callisto, though, why did that guy never come up with Callisto Chess?

    And the sizes need to be tweaked, as well as having the satellite removed from the Mercury board. Should there be different conditions for transferring between planet-and-satellite and planet-and-planet?

    I was delighted to see that Mars chess is jetan, what with being a long-time Barsoom fan, but there should be variants for Phobos and Deimos too.

  11. christhecynic February 24, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    The sizes are never going to work out (unless one starts from scratch, and even then… damn. Maybe a logarithmic scale?)

    I need to insert this somewhere, so why not here. List of objects in solar system by size.

    My thinking on Planet/Satellite or Satellite/Satellite as opposed to Planet/Planet is that it would use a less powerful rocket that couldn’t do interplanetary. Certainly things that would have broken up boards (e.g. Ceres and the Asteroid Belt) need a way to transfer between boards that is short of blasting between orbits. The rocket pieces from Mercury could serve that purpose.

    My thought on what gets a board and what doesn’t revolved largely around wanting to include Ceres. So anything bigger than Ceres has to get its thing, though Ceres, Pluto, Sedna, and Eris are all of the form “and the” so that they don’t actually need to be big enough to play on if we assume limited ability to move between bodies. Europa would be the smallest that definitely gets its own board.

    You’re right that Mercury chess has a satellite in spite of mercury having no moon, but one could hand-wave that as being MESSENGER two or some such.

    I didn’t even get to the provisional royalty idea.

    Say you want to take over Mars, but you don’t want to abandon Earth. Obviously what you do is send pieces to Mars and name one of them as a acting king. It then acts as a royal piece (allowing you to control allied pieces on Mars and being subject to all restrictions of royalty) until:
    A It is taken, checkmated, or whatever disposes of royal pieces on its home board.
    B An actual royal piece of the same color shows up at which point it’s demoted to normal and can be commanded by the owner of actual royal piece.
    C The enemy has been vanquished from the board it is on and it becomes an actual royal piece.

    The thinking that I’ve done is all to incorporate existing games into a larger interplanetary framework.

    Of course if one were to actually start out from scratch, a lot more time could be spent on making things fit properly.

    A Jetan board is larger than a chess board (156% the size) while Mars is significantly smaller than earth (28.4% of the surface area*) so either Jetan needs to shrink or Earth chess needs to grow. The second makes a degree of sense given that FIDE is not the only chess on earth (Xiangqi and Shogi come to mind) but if earth need to be made bigger than what does one do with the gas giants?

    Well… Actually, and this addresses the footnote too, we could throw out the gas giants. Given that the game Jupiter exists it makes a lot of sense to have it be for the planet Jupiter, but if we’re starting from scratch then we don’t need that.

    All of the gas giants have nice solid moons that games in their orbit could take place in. Then Earth is our largest board and the only question is how small we go. Sticking with “Ceres will not be forgotten!” would place a lower bound.

    Of course, again because of things being from scratch, that’s a lot of games to make.

    *Though we could decide to talk about land area, but then what do we do on Jupiter?

  12. genesistrine February 25, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Planet/Satellite: the difficult bit is getting off the planet – so make the cost/difficulty of leaving relative to the size of the board you’re moving from?

    You’re right that Mercury chess has a satellite in spite of mercury having no moon, but one could hand-wave that as being MESSENGER two or some such.

    Or rename it. Maybe it should be Pluto/Charon? Though really those two should be much closer in size.

    You could make the rule that to be included a body should be roughly spherical, which would exclude all the asteroids except Ceres, Pallas and Vesta IIRC, as well as Mars’ moons (which gets rid of the problem of having to add satellite boards to jetan) and a lot of the gas giant ones too. As well as asteroidal/cometary oddities like Chiron.

    And yes, getting rid of the gas giants too would simplify sizing. Or how about if you made the gas giant boards 3-d? That way you get boards that are effectively larger without having to use ones that are 128×128 or whatever.

    Provisional royalty: what if you had it that promotion moves – or can move – a piece to another board as well as making it royalty?

  13. Shannon February 26, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    One of the reasons I like non-computer RPGs is that with a human game-master you can try anything. You want to negotiate with the dragon rather than fight it? Sure, no problem, and it doesn’t matter if the game designer thought of it beforehand.

    Yes, exactly! What I like even better are non-computer RPGs that have it built into the rules that you are rewarded for good storytelling. Both 7th Sea and the Doctor Who roleplaying game explicitly have ways for the gamemaster to give extras to players who do a particularly good job with characterization or something clever. They act like tokens that you can cash in later if you are having a particularly difficult time or a crappy roll. That ability to cheat the dice sometimes makes a big difference in terms of fun.

  14. depizan February 26, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    Well, you can try anything in non-computer RPGs if the gamemaster lets you. And if you can roll well. And/or if you feel comfortable using the game mechanics that let you do spectacular things. And/or if you understand the system really, really well. And if you’re willing to risk failure (of a non-fun variety, like your character rolls a one and dies). And if you know the world and/or rules well enough to try things. And if you’re willing to look stupid for asking if you can do something. And you don’t have social anxiety so bad that sometimes you can barely participate in games where you do trust the gamemaster.

    I mean, yes, a really good tabletop game can be awesome and far exceeds what a computer RPG, MMO or otherwise, can possibly manage.

    But I can play types of characters in a computer RPG I could never play in a tabletop game. In tabletop world, I’m limited to cautious support types, with occasional forays into being the comic relief. I’m not sure there’s a single character I’ve played in a computer RPG that I’d even try to play in a tabletop game. They all have skills my dice rolling would never allow for and/or they would require me to have absolute total trust in the gamemaster (and quite probably the other players). And that’s assuming my social anxiety wasn’t acting up.

    Or maybe I’m just feeling super down about tabletop games because I’ve had some not so great experiences with them. And because I mostly can’t seem to participate in the forum based game I’m currently in. (Because social anxiety, not because of any gamemaster or other player problems.)

  15. Firedrake February 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    depizan: I’m sorry you’ve had unsatisfying experiences with tabletop RPGs. The downside of every game effectively being hand-crafted is that some of the people running them aren’t very good at it. (And, speaking as a long-time gamemaster, spotting a player who’s not having fun and working things out with them is very much part of the GM’s job. Not one I’m as good at as I’d like.)

  16. lonespark42 February 27, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    What about online RPG stuff with real people? Is that a thing? Because we could totally start a Slacktivite group, if so…

  17. lonespark42 February 27, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    And yeah, I feel you on the social anxiety and trust. That’s part of why I never got into it, though the bigger part was that while I love making up stories, and I don’t mind collaborating, I can’t do it quickly or verbally well.

    Mouthwords hard! Typing words better!

  18. lonespark42 February 27, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Aaaargh what did I do why did it eat my comment?!?

    Anyway, as I meant to post…

    There’s also the fact that real life already feels like some complex game with arcane rules no one taught me. So I adore Habitica! And I relate a lot to things like these:

  19. depizan February 27, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Firedrake: I have had some very good experiences as well. And even a GM who figured out a work around for “holy shit, you really can’t seem to roll a two digit number on a twenty-sider” by creating a whole new class for me to play. Granted, I was still support/comic relief, but at least I got to do things! (Mad Alchemist Class: make potions on the fly, rolling on a table to see what you make and what the drawback is. Then convince your comrades to drink it, smear it on themselves, or throw it at the enemy, as appropriate. Potentially way over powered, yes (considering the only failure would be a potion that did nothing useful to the situation), but considering I’d spent the previous campaign missing on every single attack…)

    But having dice that really, truly hate you is kind of a problem for playing a character who’s supposed to be good at anything. Unless you throw the dice element out all together. And, granted, a lot of really epic tabletop gaming experiences I’ve had were at least 95% roleplaying. So communal storytelling as gaming is probably possible. However, there’s still something to be said for the element of chance, and I don’t know how to balance out everyone else’s chance to fail being my certainty to fail. (Have someone else roll the dice? Use a different dice system? Ones that don’t involve those damned twenty-siders do seem to work better, for whatever reason. Have someone who knows how to game the game build my characters for me? “Here, now you can play a competent person, you can only fail if you roll a one.” Then again, people have tried to game D&D for me, though not quite to that extent. It’s amazing how many 2s and 3s one person can roll!)

  20. depizan February 27, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Lonespark: online RPGs with real people are totally a thing, yes. Sadly, my social anxiety does not seem to get on well with them. I’m not entirely sure why there are some ways in which I can be social on line no problem and others cause me to seize up, but I have never made sense of my social anxiety. (Tabletop roleplaying: Yes. Forum roleplaying: some days a yes, some days a no. And the out of character communication needed for it to really work? Mostly a no. Roleplaying with other actual people in an MMO: AUGH NO THAT WOULD BE THE WORST THING EVER. PANIC. Hell, I run away in SW:TOR when I see fellow Tumblrites on. They might want to talk to me, augh. (I say of people I cheerfully babble with on Tumblr. *facepalm*))

  21. firedrake February 28, 2016 at 7:11 am

    In case anyone wants to try it, is a free videoconference service that runs in the browser and doesn’t require registration. I’ve been using it for games for a few months now. There’s no support for dice or maps or anything like that, but the games I use don’t need them, and the setup is trivial even for non-techies (contrast something like Roll20 or Fantasy grounds which can be a pain to get working).

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