Over the next months I’ll be deciding what my next game will be. I find myself thinking about what some of my favorite games have been and what I think they’ve done well. My new game will undoubtedly end up sharing some characteristics of my favorite games. Things I know I like and enjoy. For example a game I’m considering has a battle screen layout similar to Darkest Dungeon for PC and movement similar to Top Shop for PS1. These are my personal opinions on great mechanics, and I’ll try to justify them as well as I can, but it’s okay if you disagree with me. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite game mechanics and what I like about them.
- Grandia 2: Battle System
- Shadow of War: Nemesis System
- Rimworld: Event Engine
Grandia 2: Battle System
Grandia 2 was an RPG I played for DreamCast. It’s since been released for PS2 and PC and probably other platforms. It’s also one of the few RPGs I’ve been patient enough to beat entirely. The story was amazing, but one of the things that made that game enjoyable was the battle system. It was real time, but would pause whenever a decision needed to be made. There were two kind of basic attacks, combo or critical. If you selected combo your character would immediately charge after the enemy and strike with fairly high priority. If you selected critical your character would charge his attack for a moment the set after the enemy and take a heavy swing that can delay or interrupt his next action. I loved the variables that introduced into combat. For a basic attack, at the very least, I have to pay attention to how far away the enemy is, how quickly I need to act and what the enemy is intending to do. I love final fantasy, but they’ve never managed to make battles interesting. Which is a shame because 50% of your time will be spent in battle. Grandia 2 had special attacks and magic, which had various area of effects(cones, circles, lines, etc.) and charge times, but the same calculations happen, where the enemy is, how quickly the attack will come out, and what they enemy intends to do. It might seem like homework, but for me it generates interest in what is happening. It gives me control and a sense of accomplishment when I make a good decision. Even if it’s hard to make a bad decision.
Shadow of War: Nemesis System
Shadow of War was an Action RPG with a battle system like Batman Arkham Asylum or Assassins Creed. This type of game deserves it’s own genre at this point “Push button counters” and “Dial-a-combos”. But what I love about Shadow of War is the Nemesis system. Procedural generated mini-bosses is a great idea. I can play through the game multiple times and have different experiences each time. I haven’t seen their code, but I can give an educated guess at how they generate an enemy. First you get your cookie cutter Orc Template, you can probably give him a first name at this point like Snagog. Then you give him a list of strengths and weaknesses. Loves fire, hates mondays, etc. Then you generate random “Title” or last name, some of which might have a heavier weight to them. Like Snagog Firelover or Snagog Mondayhater might feel more personalized than Snagog Snagogson. Then you choose a random character model for them, with a heavy weight towards strength/weakness he’s going to need a flaming beanie and on mondays he slouches.
Now shadow of war did not absolutely nail this feature. They did pretty good, but there were lots of things working against them, such as voice acting or unique animations. Everytime they add a cool personality they might need to add voices, new armor, weapons or animations. That I understand, but where they really messed up was triggering personalities. In one of the missions, they are trying to show off enemy weaknesses so they have you drop Morgai Flies on a bad guy who hates Morgai Flies. I played through four times, and maybe I’m unlucky but every time that guy comes back a mutant like:
“Now I’m one with the flies”
Which would be cool if it happened once. But it happens every play through, in the exact same spot unless I deliberately ignore his weaknesses or make somebody a fly person before I meet him. I know it’s tempting to show off your stuff, but part of the appeal is not having the same experience twice. I don’t want to fight flyguy again. I’m done with him, he’s ugly.
Another thing Shadow of War did, was it got too excited about the nemesis system. We can mass produce special enemies, and then every interaction will be meaningful and special. Did they not learn anything from the Incredibles? When everyone is super, no one is. They could have done something about this. They could have had more orcs follow you from region to region. They could have made it harder or more meaningful to recruit an orc to your team. There could have been more special “events” like random encounters with your orcs that trigger in certain areas. Like going for a walk in Nurn and you see one of your Orc Bros “Hey boss, I was in the neighborhood and OH SNAP LOOKOUT!” as a familiar villain leaps overhead on a dire caragor.
They did a pretty good job, but I’ve been thinking about applying the nemesis system in other games. You could have games that don’t actually have the final boss until a meaningful event you did created them. Imagine you’re playing an RPG, trying to save the world. You have romantic interest character that you’ve bonded with through various romantic events. You get married, have kids. While you’re out adventuring your game spouse and you have an ethical split. It gets heated and suddenly a villain appears! It’s your spouse, she’s not really evil she just really disagrees with you and believes you and people like you have to be stopped. Battles and encounters become more intense until your spouse becomes the cataclysm that must purge the world of living things to preserve it. Conditions trigger other events, like does she take the kids, do the kids stay with you, do the kids run away because they can’t stand the fighting. It doesn’t have to be your spouse that becomes the villain, it could be your kids or you dog. It sounds so much simpler than it actually is. But I like thinking about how I would implement something like that.
Rimworld: Event Engine
Rimworld is a colony building game. I’m currently reading the creator, Tynan Sylvester’s book “Designing Games: A Guide to Engineering Experiences” to give me some insight into his development process. He basically built an event engine. You feed it parameters that look like a Florida Newspaper Click Bait Headline: Trigger happy, 8 fingered street urchin standing on a bridge under a roof, behind a sandbag fires a poor quality automatic pistol at a space pirate’s drunk chinchilla. What happens? Well a bunch of dice rolls. hit or miss, location of hit, damage of hit, etc. Really it’s a complex set of modifiers on your typical D&D roll to hit. You can’t just code
IF(TriggerHappyEightFingeredStreetUrchinStandingOnABridgeUnderAroofBehindASandbagFires && TargetIsDrunkChinchillaOfSpacePirate) KillChilla();
You could, but that would be terrible. You code what each of those things mean by themselves. TriggerHappy modifies time between shots, eight fingers might modify that too. When you weave all of those together you end up with a scenario that you’ve never seen before, but it’s exciting. You either love or hate that chinchilla. It’s cute, but it’s an alcoholic and also probably committed or witnessed various atrocities based on it’s ties to space piracy. You really want to know what happens to that chinchilla. Dozens of those events happening is bound to produce some memorable ones. In my current play through I have a paraplegic pig (I call him ground pork). He tried to rescue on of my colonists during a firefight and got his spine shattered. I could eat him and make a hat from his leather, but he’s a hero so I patched him up and feed him every day. I’ll consider the whole mission a failure if he doesn’t board the final spaceship and leave the planet with me.
I think often on how important it is to not relive the same exact scenarios again. With these three games, I have little desire to play Grandia 2 again because everything will play out exactly the same without me. Shadow of war will have some interesting parts, but it will make me go through the tutorial again and show me FlyGuy for the 5th time. RimWorld I will play again, I’ll start a new colony in the tundra or the desert. It will have a different layout, I’ll have different colonists and different problems. I hold these games at about the same value, but if you were to measure them by how actual time I spent playing and enjoying them, RimWorld is the clear winner.