Game Mechanics Development

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Game mechanics are what players will do in your game. Mechanics can be complicated or simple, but they must entertain player for hours. Game development often starts from creative gameplay idea, which later will be wrapped in beautiful graphics and storyline. But sometimes development starts from the end: game designer has interesting story and lore but doesn’t know what gameplay will suit the game.Game mechanics for your game

We will help you generate game mechanic ideas, create a enjoyable prototype and bring the balance in game. In this article we will tell about how connect simple mechanics into complex systems and build gameplay core from scratch.

How does game mechanics create the game

Game mechanic is any event in the game: the player presses the button and the character jumps. Generally speaking, game mechanics are the rules of a game world. Complete set of game mechanics describes the way players will play the game.Gameplay ideas for your gameDeep inside the game the groups of mechanics are united in cycles. With such cycles the game forces the player to use mechanics repeatedly to achieve known result. For example, when Mario jumps under the brick he destroys it. The player know thay to destroy the brick above he needs to jump.

This process could be described by a cycle:

  • the player sees a brick;
  • he jumps;
  • he destroys the brick.

That simple “jump” mechanic can be improved by complication. Mario can jump and land on enemies to kill them, can toss turtle’s shells, dodge enemies and overcome obstacles. Every use case of jump is a separate game cycle.

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Cycles usually last for 1-10 seconds in action games. Developers can expand cycles to 30 seconds and more if they have what to offer to the player. For example, in turn-based strategy one full turn (cycle) can last for several minutes. And for FPS games the skirmish can be over in less than half a second. To keep the game entertaining the developer must alternate different game cycles. The best way is to alternate thinking with button mashing.

Game mechanics for strategy games

Often the developers do not intend to create a thing called cycle. They just make some fun mechanics which will suit the game. For example, in Grand Theft Auto most players steal cars, ride till crash and search for new cars to steal. It is complete gameplay cycle because it is fun, not because the developers thought “We need to create cycle out of this!”

How to generate game mechanics ideas

When we have to create some ideas we usually going from more to less complicated: from big gameplay cycle to simple mechanics inside of it. At first we come up with general ideas like “The player meets an enemy and they fight”. Then we ask questions:

  • How does the player meets enemies?
  • How does the fight looks like?
  • What does the player and his enemies do in the fight?
  • What are consequences of victory and defeat?

As soon as we find answers we get more questions. Can the player avoid the fight? Can he prepare for battle in advance? Can he flee? Every answer is a possible idea for generating the game mechanics.

Spotting is a great game mechanics idea

When we are finished with the fight cycle we switch to a new cycle. Maybe, he got some gold, trophies and experience and can heal and level up his army. After the peace cycle comes the economy cycle: the player will sell trophies and hire more slodiers. Every completed cycle affects future player’s actions. 

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Game series Shin Megami Tensei: Persona are good example of cycle alternation. Those games can be split in such cycles:

  • storyline — the player talks to game characters;
  • economy — the player shops for weapons and prepares for future fights;
  • exploration — the player wanders the dangerous lands in search for the enemy;
  • fight — the player’s team fights with enemies and earns trophies.

Persona 4

How to develop gameplay properly and not slip it into a routine

Any game mechanic can get boring if the player repeats it 1000 times a hour. Even the car theft from GTA series would be boring if there were no funny random accidents on the road.

A routine comes in when the player is getting familiar to gameplay cycle and uses game mechanics with automated confidence. To avoid this we need to give the player something new to learn:

  • a new complex cycle — the player must develop his town in addition to fights and exploration;
  • a new mechanics in the old cycle — the player got new type of warriors and have to learn to use them effectively;
  • a new hostile mechanics — the player now fight stronger enemies with new abilities.

We believe that the right way to develop a gameplay is to use all three ways. New cycles offer different mechanics and alternates with cycles already learned by the player. New mechanics in well known cycle allow to change playstyle. New mechanics in enemies hands force player to search for the best use of all provided possibilities.

Great example of fighting the routine is a strategy game WarCraft 3. In the beginning the player learns how to manage the army of orcs and build the camp. Then the player plays as humans and learns their playstyle. In the end the game says: “Here is your strong army, forget the resource management, just go and fight!”. Most players finished WarCraft 3 in 30 hours and never said the game was boring because great development of gameplay.

Creating the prototype of gameplay cycles

In the beginning of game development we need to check if the core gameplay is fun and addictive enough. Core gameplay is the cycle which takes most of time the average player will spend in the game. It is not the full gameplay but small action which be repeated for hundreds times during one game session. For example, the core gameplay of Subway Surfers is dodging obstacles with jumps, slides and swipes.

Simple game mechanics: run, dodge and jump

To develop a prototype we need to have a finished concept for a few small cycles. This cycles may be not the unique mechanics of particular game but basic things like moving the character, popping bubbles and receiving reward for some actions. Then we can expand and enhance prototype with unique game mechanics.


How some cool game mechanics were created:

  • Braid — the developer made a simple platformer game and later added ability to change the time flow: stop it, rewind, make parallel time streams;
  • Shovel Knight — one of the developers thought it would be fun to give a medieval knight shovel instead of sword;
  • Superhot — the developers made mistake in code and the enemies and their bullets weren’t moving while the player was standing still.

Superhot — interesting first person shooter

Conclusion: in the prototype we build a core gameplay mechanics and check how fun they are. If they are not fun enough, we can think about something different or just balance the gameplay.

How to balance the game

Sometimes the game entertains you for only few minutes and then it gets boring. The most obvious reason of this is poor game balance and not the gameplay itself. For example, if the player is progressing too fast he does not get satisfaction from completing a level or beating an enemy. If this happens, the developer must to correct the duration and difficulty of every game cycle and bring balance to them.

Perfectly balanced game mechanics

When we need to balance a game we use one simple trick: we divide or multiply some of game mechanics variables by 2. It helps us to spot the problem in gameplay and balance it properly:

  • in the hyper casual games we double the game speed. Player will get less time to react and will get more joy from completing a level or beating his record;
  • in the platformers we can double the enemies speed or cut player strength. When the price of mistake is high and the gameplay is simple most of the players will have fun;
  • in the strategy games we cut the players income. By doing this we force player to carefully plan every move and when he win he will be proud of his strategy genius.

By making the game harder to play we increase the amount of all the positive emotions the player will get from victory. More emotions → stronger addiction → more tries → more profits for developers.

Do not mistake “making game harder” and “making the game overcomplicated”. We do not add new mechanics to balance the game — we just work with numbers.

Hire us to develop game mechanics and polished gameplay

As we noted before, game development does not always start from core gameplay concept. Sometimes you only have great idea of game world and story or interesting visual style. We will generate game mechanics ideas to suit your game and make it fun.

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