Weekly Question Thread - Week 3 - Mechanics you love

I’ve recently got back into Slay The Spire and it has taken up so much of my time. It has also reminded me of one of my absolute favorite mechanics that one can put in a game - deckbuilding! Not that deckbuilding is an easy mechanic to design around, but I love how it often brings a lot of inherent strategies and best practices with it I can take from game-to-game, and how individual games can mess with those too. It can also represent things beyond just mechanics, like a large deck in a war or management game can be allegory for how difficult it can be to get the things you need to get done in a heavily bureaucratic system.

In addition, ever since playing Othercide earlier this year, I’ve been keeping a lookout for turn-based games that use an initiative timeline! I’ve posted about it before, but tactics games and other turn-based games become much more interesting once turn order is not a given, and more so when you are given ways to manipulate and take advantage of it.

This week I want to hear about the mechanics we seek out in games. The ones you see on a games store page or in a review that excite you! It could be you’re seeking another Nemesis system game, or like your games to be run-based. Maybe you love dialogue trees and want games that tell an interesting story, and let have some choice in how it all plays out. Interpret the question as you want!


Question to Ponder

  • Are there any mechanics that automatically have you curious about a game?
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I love party building/job systems as a mechanic in RPGs. For me this love started with Pokemon, which is a simplistic approach to the idea. Each Pokemon has 1 or 2 elemental types, can learn a variety of different moves using certain elemental types (for example, Swampert, a Water/Ground Pokemon, can learn Rock Smash, a Fighting-type move), and you can have 6 at a time! I think this mechanic leads to really interesting emergent narratives. For example, in Pokemon Sapphire I made a team that had 4 water types, an electric type, and a steel/rock type. It was really unique, and I’ll always remember it. I’m sure every Pokemon player has a similar story/experience with a unique team, or a Pokemon they grew to love by having it in their team.

The best game with this (that I’ve played) is Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. In it you make a team of 4 blank-slate characters, choose their classes, weapons, and armor. I really like making my own custom Akira Toriyama creation, and armor/weapons visibly change on the characters, making the customization feel even better. I played over 300 hours of the game messing around with different classes and party builds, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. My favorite build ended up being Paladin, Gladiator, Mage, and Martial Artist, but there were so many fun ones I played with that it didn’t really matter, I was always having fun.

I don’t like this when it feels like there’s an ideal party structure, and deviating from the ideal hurts gameplay. I can’t think of an example right now, but they exist! This also isn’t fun when changing parties/classes/jobs is punished rather than encouraged as a part of exploration. This was how I felt about Dragon Quest VIII, and it soured my experience of the game a little.

Once I finish my current playthrough of Pokemon Platinum, I plan on moving onto either Final Fantasy V or VI (III), so hopefully they continue to scratch that itch! Also my current team in platinum is Torterra, Togekiss, Luxray, and Crobat for my main party at the moment. Thinking of dropping Crobat, since Togekiss covers flying, and any of my other Pokemon can learn Toxic (Even talking about party building gets me thinking about my current party in the game I’m playing!)

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Something I actually though about recently when I started played Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Pathfinder: Kingmaker is just how much I like the mechanic (or maybe more of the general structure) of having a hub you go back to between missions to talk with NPCs and prepare for whatever is next. I think it makes for a really good flow of the gameplay. You have you action-packed mission where anything could happen and then you go back ‘home’ to a place you know and can take your time and catch your breath and check in on all your friends and allies. I think it’s part of why I liked the Mass Effect games so much and probably a big reason in why those characters are so endearing (in addition to a lot of their very good writing).

Also, Glorgu, your mention of Othercide and the initiative timeline reminded me about how much I like that sort of mechanic as well. Looking at a battle, seeing an enemy is going next, and then trying to figure out how to prevent their turn (through either defeating them, disabling them with a status condition or something, or moving them back in the timeline) is such a good and fun mechanic. It’s one of the (many) reasons that I loved Blue Reflection, actually. It’s very very good for that sort of thing, especially when it gets to boss battles where you have to manage four or five different elements of the fight on the timeline.

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Anything with an investigation accusation loop. Dangan ronpa and ace attorney being the two that come to mind which is why I’ve been tempted by la noire for months alongside my love of period pieces although the post war cop thing has kept me away. I mean c’mon a noire game set in the late forties and early fifties there’s no reason being a cop had to be a thing as opposed to a pi

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As a broad category, I love a well-defined chase for cool stuff. Whether it’s patrolling the exact square meter of grass in Pokemon I need to be on to catch some elusive super-powerful Pokemon or chasing down the right Gwent cards or hunting some hilariously OP weapon in an RPG (Umbra from TESIV: Oblivion comes to mind), I just love a good ol’ fashioned treasure hunt. Something that makes me, the player, feel rewarded (usually through a raw display of power) having hunted said thing down.

I say “well-defined” here because I don’t like just farming. It’s nice when things pop and you get that super swanky Exotic weapon or hear the squawk of the Innkeeper when you pull a Golden Legendary, but repeating the same activity over and over again praying for the desired result just makes me feel like I’m wasting time I could be spent doing other things.

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I really like games where time passes by, allowing NPCs to have their own schedule or storylines (Majora’s Mask, Pathologic), and/or being able to see changes in the world over time (Outer Wilds, Pathologic, Dragon Age 2 to an extent). I enjoy feeling disempowered in the way this type of mechanic makes the world around you feel more alive and independent of Your Main Character and isn’t always catering to the player. If I missed something, I missed it and that’s that!

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The recent thing in first-person games with really high-resolution assets where you can pick up an object and just seamlessly examine it, turn in over, look at it real closely for fine details, and then put it back.

I wish I could say why this appeals to me so much.

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I love to build a building. I love to play a city builder, but I also love Fallout 4 and I like AC Valhalla’s little village construction. It’s nice to build a building and then that building does something. Who doesn’t love to build?

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I’m an absolute sucker for go-fast buttons. Not sprint buttons, that’s boring, I need a repetitive action to perform to move quickly through a level. Bunny/strafe hopping, rocket jumping, grappling hooks, or just a dash or roll if the momentum feels right. The way Dusk’s slide feels like you’re being yanked forward, the heaviness of Cybernator’s dash, flinging yourself in Bionic Commando Rearmed, and chaining wall runs into swoops in The King’s Bird.

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I got two.

First is crafting the equipment you use with materials you have to gather. It’s not for everyone, but I like starting a new game, seeing that there’s a bunch of resources I’ll eventually need to get, slowly amassing a good supply over the course of the game, and finally crafting that weapon I’ve been eyeing for a while (Warframe and Monster Hunter are two games that come to mind). I feel like I tend to appreciate my stuff a lot more when I go through the trouble of making it, as opposed to getting it via loot drops.

The other is a little generic and hard to describe, but a variety of traversal mechanics in games (especially in first-person games). Climbing, vaulting, wallrunning, parkour in general, the more the better. Ideally, I’d like it to feel good (smooth animation, not a lot of friction, minimal loss of momentum, etc.), but just having it is worth a lot of points in my book. Mirror’s Edge is probably the gold standard here for me, but other notable titles from recent years include Dying Light, Titanfall 2, Apex Legends, Ghostrunner, and even Cyberpunk 2077 to a smaller extent.

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Yeah, this is it for me. I love a clear demarcation between safety and danger. Being able to recharge and plan my next move is good and knowing generally where I can take my time and where I’m under the cosh is great. Having a central hub to talk to people and explore around is nice. My favourite thread I personally started on here was the (bad titled) Favourite Towns thread. Your Favourite Videogame Towns

mufosta’s post got me thinking about how the old school Pokemon games are good for this. Struggling through a particularly challenging dungeon before I emerge and hear that music change to something pleasant as I enter a little town is always a great feeling and just as much a sense of relief as diving into a protected area in something like Dying Light or Resident Evil.

One mechanic that I love but is overused and frequently sucks is watching the numbers go up. I love when there’s a set goal defined in a game relatively early and your game is tailored towards achieving that goal. Maybe the main example I can think of is Mass Effect 3 where pretty quickly your game is structured around building the Crucible and the rest of the game you get to watch the numbers go up as you hit that magic number. Maybe what I hoped from that game was that the success parameters weren’t so binary and maybe my issue with games which do the numbers thing visually well (MGSV with Mother Base, Assassin’s Creeds with settlements and building your Assassin’s Order) is that there could be more narratively and mechanics wise to reward you for building something or hitting those numbers but in theory I like having a goal to work towards and seeing it slowly rise.

I don’t just mean levels either. I mean something tangible within the universe that I can see which benefits me with more story or cool items. I hope that makes sense.

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I love the thing where you scan your enemies to learn more about them. It really pulls me into the game because it focuses on the element of learning the world that is at or near the core of player progression with some of my favourite games. Prey is an obvious example, where you scan Typhon to learn their lore, strengths and weaknesses, well as gain access to the Typhon upgrades. Another great example is Subnautica, where the creatures, even the big scary ones, aren’t really your enemies. Progression in Subnautica is so much about understanding how to navigate the ocean world and there’s so much good detail in the creature bios that separates it, in my mind, from something like No Man’s Sky which can’t replicate that feeling with dice-roll creatures.

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I love any game set in Japan where the characters automatically take their shoes off upon entering a house. I don’t really know if that’s a mechanic or just a cute graphics thing.

It was my favorite part of Yo-Kai Watch.

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Hug buttons. It’s not very often they come up (Spiritfarer and A Boy and His Blob are the only ones I can think of), but games need more hug buttons is all I’m saying.

More broadly, specific inputs that aren’t necessarily for gameplay. Emotes in online games, that smoke a cigarette button in Vanquish. Love that shit, give it to me on a plate. Om nom nom.

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The Hum button in Transistor.

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lately i’ve been interested in movement in games that has intentional friction. specifically, the old Armored Core games – those feel like sludge, and i love it.

the D-pad does tank controls, L1/R1 strafes, that’s fine, but you look up/down with L2/R2? and the game expects you to actually do this??? it kinda resembles Echo Night, another From Software game from the period. but where that’s a contemplative adventure game, in Armored Core you’re, like, dodging missiles. they stuck with it, too! long after the dualshock controller was out, the series’ controls went mostly unchanged, with reviews getting increasingly harsh for it. and frankly, for good reason! they are opaque, alienating games. some don’t let you change controls, at all, and that is inexcusable imo.

but also, to me, they hit a really specific feeling of making the controller feel like a cockpit. as if you are pulling levers and flipping switches in a particular order to make this nightmare machine keep you alive. and then they ask you to, say, turn yourself into a slingshot and simply THROW yourself across a canyon in a mission like this, and i can’t help but smile.

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I really love first person stealth mechanics, at least when they’re well done. When I was a kid (like 7 - 9 years old) my friends and I would play “the game” (note: not the game where you lose by thinking about it), which consisted of us sneaking from one side to the other of whosever house we were in without being seen. To this day I can clearly feel the rush of looking around the corner to see my mom doing dishes, and then sneaking behind her and down the stairs on the far side of the room. In the years since my parents have confirmed that they not only knew exactly what my friends and I were talking about when we brought up “the game”, but saw us EVERY TIME, and just acted like they hadn’t for our benefit. But still, the feelings were real!

When my friend’s teen brother got a copy of Thief Gold, it was described to me in hushed tones as “the game, but a video game.” I didn’t play that game myself until years later, but watching my friends older brother sneak past guards and swipe valuables gave me the same rush I had had while playing “the game.” Ever since that day I have been chasing that rush in games constantly! Thief and its sequels definitely didn’t disappoint, but beyond the stray Arkane game I haven’t had much luck. So, yeah, I can forgive almost any gameplay problems a game has if the first person stealth is good.

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This is why I couldn’t get into Spiritfarer. The whole game was like a long clicker full of cool-downs, and the animals kept telling me “I don’t need a hug right now.”

SORRY, MAYBE I NEED A HUG RIGHT NOW. DID YOU THINK OF THAT??

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This is really just a genre of game but monster breeding will always get me to buy in more than I would have otherwise. It is specifically the act of combing to things to make a new thing with its own unique traits, tied to the originals traits typically.

I love Dragon Warrior Monsters 2, one of my faves ever. I can create family trees for every monster in my party that will be completely unique to me because of the choices of monsters I made and stats not scaling equally across monsters of the same species.

It doesn’t technically have to be a monster breeder but I haven’t found anything truly similar outside those games.

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Video games weren’t specified so I’m here to say the entire concept of riichi in Mahjong rips.

When you’re one tile away from winning and you haven’t used any discarded tiles to form a triplet or straight in your hand, you can tell everybody that you’re one away from winning and wager 1000 of your points. From now on when it’s your turn, you need to discard the tile you draw if it isn’t your winning tile. If you win, your hand is more valuable.

It really changes the flow of a match as suddenly everyone has to decide if their hand is worth the risk of discarding what could be your winning tile or if they just fold. Others might count on your lack of ability to control your discards means that you’re more likely to deal their winning tile and will push.

It’s a fascinating dynamic for a gambling game.

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