Just because you can’t see them, does not mean they’re not there. And I’m not talking about ghosts! Today it’s all about hidden video game mechanics. Whether they’re there to invoke a certain feeling or to sculpt the experience (the way the devs envisioned it), one thing is certain… the player is none the wiser.
Down to the wire!
Do you enjoy action packed shooters? Love to ride that adrenaline rush? When you barely survived within an inch of health or downed an enemy with the last bullet in your magazine? You might not be aware, but that feeling is exactly what the designers of the game prepared for you; using special game mechanics! Ubisoft Montreal, known for their Assassin’s Creed franchise, decided to create those memorable moments more often and made the last portion of the players health bar hold more points than all the others. Other developers go one step further with their mechanics, giving the player one second of invulnerability – Ensuring that feeling of barely surviving.
If you think that these methods of experience crafting might be a result of the latest trend of cinematic games, you’ll be surprised to learn that they were with us all along. For example Rob Femier, the lead programmer of the 1999 classic, ‘System Shock 2’, made every last bullet of a magazine do double damage!
If barely surviving isn’t your cup of tea, you might be interested in the techniques that ‘Far Cry 3’ employs to make you feel like a badass. When the player is being swarmed with dozens of enemies, the game allows only a few of them to actually attack. So, the player can win against seemingly, impossible, odds and feel like Rambo. ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ developers wanted to remove frustration of being killed out of nowhere; so when you enter combat in their game, the enemies always start with 0% of aiming capabilities to give players a heads up. If you think that’s cheap, ask yourself what’s cooler: running and suddenly being sniped by an unseen enemy or seeing bullets fly all around you and desperately jumping into cover?
So smart, it’s scary!
The AI in F.E.A.R., a 2005 survival horror first person shooter, is known to be one of the most advanced in the industry. Or at the very least acts like it is. While it is undeniably impressive, it also uses tricks to make the player think the enemies are smarter than they really are. Anyone who’s played it remembers the way soldiers worked together to eliminate the player, shouting orders to each other and following them, so efficiently that it’s scary. In truth, a soldiers behaviour tree first decided what his action will be and then made a different soldier shout that order to him, to make it appear like they’re cooperating.
There are many, many more mechanics like this in games and while I love learning about them, it’s kind of like getting to know the magicians trick. After you know how it’s done, it looks really simple. That’s why this is all you’re getting for now. Just remember on your way out, that whenever a game asks you to look up or down at the very beginning – it’s actually checking if you need inverted Y-axis controls.