By this I am not describing an absurdly narrow area of expertise… I am describing my aesthetic.
It is easy to become lost in the mechanics and machinations of game design. To glorify systems and metrics and equations and definitions and exceptions and minutia — to obsess over design in detail. It is a habit hardened in the same forge as our instincts, back when we first began to hone our craft. We became accustomed to looking at our feet, wary of missteps, and now we believe the road to be the prettiest scenery. But we are no longer in danger of stubbing our toes — so look up! Beyond mere mechanics lies meaning, and deeper design requires more than technique, it demands values.
One way to understand your design values is to find your ultimate game mechanic. What gameplay action most realizes your design aesthetic? What concept always feels fresh? What tool springs to mind for every problem? For some designers, the Dialog Tree is the root of their art. Others appeal to the direct, uncompromising demands of the Headshot. Some designers have hung their entire career on the Fine-Tuned Economy or the Skill Bar, and their focus has led to many fine games.
For me, it’s all about the Jump Kick. Taken individually, both the Jump and the Kick are atomic, fundamental, with an enormous variety of possibilities. The Jump because it completely analog, a fraction lies between safety and disaster. The Kick because it rests on rhythm, the right moment to strike comes at its own pace. For both, the subtlety and skill come before the action, leaving them pure and as simple as any mechanic could be.
But their complexity lies in their combination. Like rice and broth, staples that become more flavorful when enjoyed together. When performed in sequence, suddenly the Jump has an offensive purpose and a target — it becomes dangerous! And the Kick expands beyond timing and gains an element of range, even into the vertical! Like two horses yoked together, they become much more powerful than the sum of their strengths. The precision required to balance a Jump Kick, and the richness it yields when well-tuned — for me it the apex of design expression.
So find your ultimate mechanic and explore your design values. It’s important to be intentional about choosing your aesthetic, or you’ll wander into a pit. You’ll become a Turret Sequence Designer, placing spectacle over freedom. Or a Stamina Bar Designer, with no purpose beyond controlling the player. Or the despicable Time Sink Designer, wasting the player’s time and your own. Maybe it’s acceptable to use these mechanics out of desperation, but they are hardly something to be valued. We should all aim higher! Maybe try Jump Kicking!
I’m curious. If you are a designer (or aspire to be) what is _your_ ultimate mechanic? And how does it define your aesthetic?
That’s a great one. I loved playing and thinking about designing brawlers as a kid. I loved the amount of interaction good brawlers got from even two buttons. With even just jump and kick you have so many possiblities
jump+kick (simultaneously pressed)
kick then jump
jump then kick
kick pressed at peak of jump
Then add in what the joystick/character is doing
joystick no direction
joystick held in a direction
character is at a run
Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2’s Rasengan Attack:
Sounds crazy, I know, but here’s how I see it:
The Build Up – Capturing the audience with spectacle and awe inspiring forms (the hook, mystery, or question raised).
The Dynamic Action – Raising the stakes and effectively carrying the audience forward with high intensity to…(suspense, tension, drama build up)
The Impact – Striking the audience at their emotional center and not simply continuing forward, but PAUSING there for a while to emphasize the impact (the reversal of expectation, the revelation of the mystery, the unveiling of the answer, the figurative “gasp”).
The Release – Letting the central action follow through and conclude in a dazzling and satisfying stream of results, consequences, and secondary opportunities. Like fireworks for the soul (the reward, the laugh after the gasp, the additional passive surprises that result from the action)
The Aftermath- Letting the dust settle, giving some breathing room to let the themes or moments settle in during a moment of contemplation and self-reflection (the full revelation of the ‘meaning’ of the experience beyond just the action and spectacle that took place.)
I’d like to say this defines my actual work, but I’m no there yet, so it’s the feeling I eventually aspire to create :)
I think this comes across in Halo somewhat. The jump in the air and barrage of rifle fire (or a good sword swipe) seem to be an iconic combination for the series. I may just be reading to much in to this though.
In my case, I would say context (this is based on a very loose interpretation of the word mechanic, just as a I have a blurry conception of the term “video game”). When a player performs an action, the action itself is usually meaningless. What is far more important is why they are doing it. If you can give the player a good feeling of context, both in story and gameplay (though these should ideally be united), then it is in some sense like they are experiencing the entirety of the game in every moment.
Actually, I talk a bit about this concept when I discuss Solar 2 at 8:15 here: http://hallmonitor.ca/game-logic-episode-5-time. Realistically, you would probably have to listen to the whole thing for it to make any sense.
One of my favorite jump kicks is the neutral air attack shared by most characters in Smash Bros, aka the “sex kick”. It comes out extremely fast and remains active for a long time so its a useful move… but since its the neutral attack you can’t be moving when you execute it, which means your character also looks very casual and aloof while using it. What a great kick!
If I had to choose an ultimate mechanic, though, it’d have to be fighting game grapple moves in general. Grabbing the opponent on wake up, doing it again, doing it AGAIN, teching throws, holding the opponent for that one extra second in order to change the pacing of a match, holding your opponent and LEAPING OFF THE STAGE at a crucial moment, throwing the opponent into an obstacle… that’s good stuff.
Upon further reflection, I guess I missed the point here. A more traditional answer would be the stealth headshot. Get in position. Predict enemy movement. Line up the shot. Strike when they enter a concealed position. Hit and you are rewarded for all your careful planning. Miss and your position is compromised. What I really like about this is that it can be done in a single action, and everything else is about careful preparation.
Jamie, would you say that your jump-kickness is fundamentally a property of you, or just of the work you’ve done?
After contemplating this I came to the conclusion that as much as I could identify with any single game mechanics, I am basically a jump-kick designer in my job. I work on interactions that are brief and fluid, analog in interface and outcome, and elegant by the use of combinatorial variation in conditions.
Like you, though, I am an FPS combat systems designer.Could any shooter designer do otherwise?
In some other projects I’ve done on my own time or in years past I’ve done very different types of design, not resembling the jump-kick at all. Work without analog components, or not real time. I always try to maintain combinatorial complexity, but that’s just elegant design. There’s a lot more to a jump-kick than that.