We pass from homogenized yearly releases to clear competitive copiers every year and grow more and more jaded to the medium we love. Have one popular success, see to 10 imitators inputting their own spin on it next year drowning the thing that was so special. Any internet forum crowds with these alarmist posts about the dull state of modern game design and tired titles treated as gaming’s second coming. True, trends come and go, genres flourish and diminish, and series rollercoaster their way in and out of relevance.
However, looking closely, there were some shimmering bits of progress among the big and small respectively. Progress we hope to see explored further for years to come exalting gaming to newer heights and ways we couldn’t have imagined before. From one-man projects to multi-studio teams, here are what we think the Top 6 fresh mechanics in game design of 2013.
6) Infused Quick Time Events — DmC: Devil May Cry
DmC: Devil May Cry brought back the series to a glitzy degree with an amalgamation of nuances to the brawler genre and visually striking levels. On top of being an absolute joy to play and watch, Dante’s grapple device of the Ophion Whip left something for developers to understand how to use quick time events without the button prompts, telling players what exactly to do to initiate an action. What prompts were there indicated when Dante was within range to enact the Ophion Whip use, no flashing “X” implying to mash the face button until the action started.
Ninja Theory took the Ophion Whip and made it so the non-hack and slash moments weren’t distant to the game. Doing what good development does in this situation and making it so the amazing feats done on screen were by your own hands and not an unplayable sequence. How it went beyond a means to travel in platforming (Angel Lift) or diminish enemy distance (Demon Pull) in combat. Boss fights remained a large dodge then frantic attack, yet using the Ophion Whip to leap Dante to the boss’ level or drag a mother out of her unborn child’s body (long story).
5) Imprecise Narrative — Call of Juarez Gunslinger
Call of Juarez Gunslinger followed the way of Spec Ops: The Line, take a series with mediocre success, critically and commercially, and somehow become a surprising juggernaut of innovation of the year. Like The Line, Gunslinger wasn’t about being typical with its story. Each level was a western fairy tale of Wild West infamy grounded on surrealist, Duck Amok-style narration. Unseen hands manipulated the environment on the fly, despite in full control of the character, you were victim to the narrator.
Silas Greaves is human, he makes mistakes. As he reflects on his adventures at a saloon to an interested party of people, your battles with outlaws and ruffians soon shifts to meet his flippant memory. Play out a sequence surrounded by Apaches and Silas will quickly remember the escape route, physically ascending the barriers to match the story. There was no reality, it resided in imagination where a duel between a crooked deputy morphs to what actually happened, a knock to the head and cold cell. Moments like those often occur comically, no slight of hand. When Silas tells of a mysterious corpse appearing from the heavens as a metaphor, the body glides down to your vision.
4) No Mechanics – Gone Home / Stanley Parable
Weapons, powers, leveling, and what other commonalities and associations are what represents gaming. Quests of epic loot and endless killing, rarely do we escape from those principles. Yet, with the indie game renaissance seeping into the next console chapter, powerful story-driven games with little to do with violence or skill. Tossed around more as “interactive fiction,” games like The Stanley Parable and Gone Home show how to dance between a great story and great game.
Stripping the “fun factor” from games forces us to look at the game and its narrative in a greater sense. The Stanley Parable teetered the line of witty adventure game and conversations about our journey by its omniscious and omnipresent narrator with questionable intentions. Gone Home saw to make the Greenbriar home one of the most fascinating characters of this year as well as experiencing empathy towards a confused sister. The way you interact with the world and how it reacts takes a precedence, meaning more with less.
3) Drivatars – Forza 5
Online multiplayer was one of many great normalizing trends of the passed console generation about to be explored more in the future. Deathmatches and hyper combos were nice to hop in on with friends, but not as captivating as racing across asphalt. Sadly, as most would attest to, scheduled multiplayer matches with compadres don’t happen as often as desired. Turn 10 saw this and made you the AI competitors in Forza Motorsport 5.
Driven by cloud-based AI, Drivatars memorizes your driving profile; taking into account how frequent you trade paint, reckless you drive, and how soon you accelerate / brake when reaching a turn. It’s been hammered before, but the foundation presented evolves the genre to a degree where the decaying joy of multiplayer regains ground. Besting a friend’s Drivatar adds a personal glee and self-satisfaction something non-discript and impersonal as common names can never top. You can’t message “Computer AI 5” and tell them how badly you conquered the road with them thrashed in wreckage.
2) Pressens — Remember Me
Face it. There’s only so far you could go with a brawler. Smash and snap at multiple buttons to crush the enemy, not a hard concept, or original one to gaming. Remember Me was that game with stunning scenery and a memory-boggling plot, yet the saving grace of Nilin’s out-of-mediocre relevance of Pressens peeks interests. Not only were pain-inflicting punches and rib-cracking kicks defeat many of Memorize’s guards scattered about, level progression lead to attacks with tangible modifiers.
No more waist-high random pickups, Remember Me took those conventions and made it where you can do deal out the big damage or refill your health bar without the scavenging or awaiting for the reluctant drop. Health regain, special attack cooldown, damage boost, and chaining pressen (doubling the forthcoming pressen), Pressens brought a new taste to the combat where a landed hit garnered a special feat.
1) Manual Labor – Viscera Cleanup Detail
Gaming works as a means of escapism, being in another’s shoes and ride out a crazy adventure, so to speak. So when asked to do janitor work around the house, we shy away and avoid it. In Viscera Cleanup Detail, it makes janitorial work satisfying and cathartic. In our heads, we’re (essentially) doing the same tasks of sanitizing an area, whether our bodies are involved or not. Cleaning up the opening mess in Shadow Warrior or the aftermath of a snapped Santa’s rampage, Viscera Cleanup Detail spruces up places and overrides the typical first-person-experience.
Two dynamics going on here: First fueling and pushing completionists, find every nook and cranny embedded in the game to complete the job. Lastly, the meta commentary underneath tells of the current trend of games and deters it. Action, explosions, and oodles of violence clutter modern titles, and RuneStorm sought to pick up after your messes by cleaning up the gore-infested rooms. And what do you know, picking up shell casings and minute objects is just as frustrating as it is in reality. Let alone buckets consistently need a washout, piles of trash need disposal, and bigger messes can be made if you’re not careful. Above all, Viscera Cleanup Detail exposes how gaming can make anything fun and rewarding.
Top 6 Saturday is a weekly feature here at Front Towards Gamer. Named for our founder, Stephen “ShanghaiSix” Machuga, the Top 6 Saturday is our countdown of the top six things that are relevant that week. It’s like a Top 10, but not quite as robust!