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Game Design Fetishes - What Are Yours?
by John Mawhorter on 12/15/11 04:53:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This might be a strange subject, but I feel like designers often have pet mechanics, quirks, or favorite little design tidbits that they are attached to. Here's my list, feel free to post your own in the comments.

One Hit Kills - instagib, the AWP, hammer item in Smash Bros., many an old school arcade game where you die in one attack from everything in the game (SHMUPS for obvious example)

Rolls/Dodges - in any 3rd person game where the character can roll to dodge attacks/falling boulders/lightning bolts (God of War, Zelda, God Hand, etc.)

Game Turn/Time/Round Structures - partially turn-based, partially real time games, or games that fit somehow in between the two categories.

Samurai Kirby minigame - a minigame from Kirby Superstar which is a randomly timed light-flash reaction test, which can be played PVP or PVCPU.

Physicalizing games - making games where physical interactions between pieces/participants determine the outcome. pinball is a good example of a physical interaction (ball and flippers)

Tri-stat systems - RPGs where there are three stats (the minimum? interesting number) rather than 6 or however many.

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Timothee Garnaud
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Mine is:

Using buttons not for actions, but for body parts.

David Pierre
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Someone must've hours into QWOP.

Luis Guimaraes
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Maximizing usability. Before all else, players deserve the most precise controls and the most well designer interface they can get.

James Youngman
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Simulations of larger, "living" systems such that the player isn't the only thing important happening in the world

A good example of this came in Monster Hunter Tri. I was hunting a large carnivore, and trying to track its location when I saw a herd of obviously agitated herbivores rush out from another zone. I passed them into the zone they escaped from, and sure enough, the monster I was seeking was there. Great bit of gameplay for someone with my design fetish.

Stephen Horn
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My big one is rhythm and timing. Examples include making your attacks a little bit faster in Phantasy Star Online, affecting attack and defense power in Super Mario RPG, or reloading quickly for a power boost in Gears of War.

Arthur Tam
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I just love when they put in a well executed feature whiplash: y'know, you're just playing a game and trundling along, and then suddenly something ridiculous and out of place challenges your perception of the game in a...positive way? The nature of these features is that your brain is trying to adjust to it, but it's not so bad that it derails the game, just enough to keep you on your toes.

Also, perfected visual and aural tactile feedback. I don't like rumble controllers that much, but you know when you hit the sweet spot with a player controlled feature and it isn't a bore or too much feedback, so that you can really see where they tucked in minor details that add to the whole experience.

Joe Cooper
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I love the home base.

I love it in Orbiter, Morrowind, Jane's F-15E Simulator; anything where you go out there into the dangerous game world and, at some point, shift focus to making it home in one piece.

Town portal scrolls; light them on fire.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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No free saving. With a few exceptions, it's god mode by another name, and a cop-out by the designer.

Walker Hardin
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Anywhere quick-save is the most useful learning tool a game can have. It prevents needless repetition of content as a punishment, while still requiring the player to overcome the obstacle presented by the game (as opposed to re-spawns like BioShock, which really is the god-mode in sheep's clothing you're talking about.)

I'm open to modes with more restrictive save rules, but the option should be there for most games.

Metro/vania style save rooms, Diablo style corpse-runs, and no-save "all or nothing" playthroughs all have their place. Like most things, I think it heavily depends on what kind of game/mode you're making.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Nope, free saving completely trivializes most games and leaves no "obstacle". For instance, almost any FPS played in one-second increments might as well be played in god mode. About the only games where free saving is fine are those where the actions required for progress are safe and saving thus cannot help - think The Secret of Monkey Island.

Now I wouldn't mind if free save was available behind a cheat code for those who want to toy around with the game instead of playing it. But when it is made the default, the designer gets lazy. After all, the player can always just load after that unfair death, right? And they can always save after that supremely boring section to avoid playing it again, right? The result of these things is that in most instances where the game has free save, there is no longer a real choice to play the game without saving. And as a player I cannot know what games are the exceptions.

Free save can indeed be used for learning. For example, many arcade game players have practiced the most critical sections of a game with savestates in an emulator. Thing is, they do this in preparation of a real scoring run and thus orthogonally to the "real" game. Most of them have also already beaten the game at the point they start this practice. In contrast, 99% of players use saves to get further in the game, and the trivialized challenge means the players no longer have to master the mechanics to succeed but can ignore them due to the mini-godmode supplied by the designer. The real result of free save is less learning and less skilled players.

marty howe
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I've paid my $100, its my entertainment experience, let me save anywhere I want.

Repetition as punishment (above) is e x c r u c i a t i n g

It's not god mode, that's just dumb. Games are not just 'mastering mechanics' or 'winning' or 'getting high scores'; its about the FEELING you get by being a badass with weapons battling adversaries inside a games universe.

ie. We need to invoke an emotional response from players (make them feel strong, heroic, smart etc) and you lose that by making them replay overly long and already completed sections of gameplay. God that's annoying.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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See, that's what I don't understand: if what you want is a power fantasy with no chance of failure, then why not design the game as a power fantasy with no chance of failure, like was done with Prince of Persia? Save creeping and managing savegames is the polar opposite of feeling "strong, heroic, smart".

Sections that are boring to replay - to be exact, too tedious and/or too easy - are very often a *symptom* of free saving because without free saving they stick out like a sore thumb. And most likely the section was bad even the first time around, not just when you replay it. It should be *fixed* instead of throwing one's hands up and implementing free saving.

I also don't get why you try to deny save anywhere equals god mode. Is there any way you, personally, can fail to beat a game - let's say a generic FPS of your choice - or even be significantly slowed down in it, if you save creep and only ever have to succeed a few seconds at a time?

In a game that challenges the player and has good difficulty balancing, the act of playing the game is its own reward and there's plenty of emotion in that. Watching a canned animation of my player character doing a heroic thing has never had 1/10th of the emotional impact of when *I* dodge the final wall of bullets from a boss and bring it down for the first time, limping on my last life.

Christiaan Moleman
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Not everyone plays games as a sport.

Free saves are about valuing a players' time. If they have to stop playing for whatever reason they should not be forced to lose progress and repeat things they've already completed. It's a basic usability issue. If players want to abuse that freedom by saving after every minor challenge that's up to them.

Martin Juranek
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There are few intermingled problems.

1) free saving makes moment to moment games much easier (not ENTIRELY god mode, but for discusion sake close enough)

2) at least some savepoints are usualy not well placed (from players point of view)

3) some games require close to perfect play (or comunicate badly that they don't), so they get boring by being repetitive when players replays sections, or allow free saving and degrades difficulty

4) some games include decisions without information. With quick saving, player can explore short term effects of choices, without he either choose safest or replay section.

What would imo be better would be limited (but not predetermined by authors) save when safe + autosaves, and game that allows partial failure without long consequences (if consequences are just bit longer than loading, lot of players would accept them and continue). Imo serious failure -> load should still be in games, without it player feels like there is no way someone can fail.

Limited saving: for example in outcast, in order to save, character used some crystal that emited sound and light for some time, thus attracting nearby enemies and was not possible to succesfully use when under attack. Badly done limited saving: in X3: TerranConflict (and others X) player could buy one save enywhere for price that realy early was high (compared to starting money) and later it was laughably low, so limitation disapeared) (+ free saves when docked at station).

Bisse Mayrakoira
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free saving has nothing to do with valuing the player's real-world commitments. Those can be taken care of 100% orthogonally to the actual game design simply by making pause persistent. So at any moment you can quit, and later resume. Nethack does this, for example.


thanks for chiming in. Outcast's saving requirement seems to be about equal to World of Warcraft's log-out requirement, and old RPGs requiring you to be far enough from monsters to rest. Simple and proven.

Isn't the correct fix for 4) to supply the player with enough information to make the situation fair?

Titi Naburu
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I agree to some point. I love racing games. Some old Need for Speed games didn't have free saving. So when you started a race, you had to do your best and try to cope with your driving mistakes - and those of your rivals. For example, in NFS4, if you started a High Stakes race, you would either win and leave with two cars, or lose and leave without a ride home, there was no other possibility.

Now, you can play UG1 onwards installments and always get away winning all races. Undercover and Canyon had very special races, Highway Battle and Canyon Duel, very dangerous and thrilling. But if you lost, you could restart them, so the effect was very dilluted.

Some games need free saving, or at least are more suitable. But I'm opossed to having it in all games. What's worst is that you can't play a game and ignore free saving, because games rely on them. Old racing games had a lower driving level, so you could win a championship despite getting few wins a only a copuple of podiums. But now games like Dirt require you to win nearly every time to let you progress.

Ryan Creighton
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i've designed a lot of kids' web games. In many of them, you can make your character fart by pressing the "F" key. Not exactly game design, but a signature Easter egg to be sure ...

Ian Richard
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Let me create my own character no matter how stupid it may be. Let me put my points into knitting if I want to goshdarnit! I almost immediately love games that offer me at least one clearly stupid build path that is unrelated to world saving.

Let me decide what is too tough for my current level. I love games that offer me warnings about dangerous high level areas... but allow me to disregard it.

Finally, games that don't force me to play moronic tutorial sections. I like it when a game realizes that I may not enjoy wasting an hour learning that "The control stick will move your character! Good Job!"

Joshua McDonald
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Seconded with one point to add. When I do manage to kill powerful stuff in the "too hard" area, let me use the items they drop without forcing me to level 20 more times.

Christiaan Moleman
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I love player movement that has a physical feel to it, where you can use your momentum to your advantage. Not actual simulation necessarily but something that *feels* believable...

Julian Impelluso
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My favorites would be (in no particular order):

- Sequence breaking: Finding a way to skip items, enemies or whole areas, either through pre-designed methods (ie: Metroid Zero Mission) or benign exploits (ie: Metroid Prime).

- Exploration and uncertainty: Exploring the unknown, facing the threat of danger at every turn. Having a home base, like a used said above, creates a nice contrast between the safe but not-so-rewarding inside and the inhospitable but bountiful outside.

- Cooperative multiplayer shenanigans: Not of the griefing variety, but rather of the funny and bizarre kind. New Super Mario Bros. Wii creates lots of those moments when four players are onscreen at once.

- Non-standard player-created/enforced game modes: Playing on Casino Zone's slots until time ran out in Sonic 2, filling the bottom part of Mario Kart 64's Block Fort with green shells and seeing how long we could survive or playing melee-only matches of CounterStrike or TeamFortress 2 are some of the things I loved doing in spite of the game's regular objectives.

Bart Stewart
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Great topic!

The following are elements I obsess over:


* playstyle-focused design (game elements intentionally meet specific entertainment desires)

* understanding & applying distinction between "strategy" and "tactics"


* large worlds (sense of place, lots of content)

* "living" worlds (dynamic simulation of interacting systems)

* intellectual consistency/coherence in all world lore & mechanics (feels like a secondary reality)

* seamlessness (minimize "level" transitions)


* emotionally plausible narrative

* actions have real emotional consequences

* heroes and villains not one-dimensional

* antagonist in particular has valid (if broken) motivation for all actions


* first-person or very high up view (3rd-person OK if completely optional)

* full quicksave + transition autosave (and define difficulty accordingly)

* (multiplayer) player controls what character info can be accessed by other characters

* (multiplayer) player controls how info about other characters is displayed

* full support for all mouse buttons, no hard-coded acceleration/smoothing

* menu support for advanced graphical/audio options (with easy "auto-default" setting)


If I had to pick just the personal quirks people are probably sick of hearing me talk about, I could narrow down the above list to just three things: player-centered design, large-scale dynamic world simulation, and quicksave. (With "design for PC first" as a strong runner-up.) For my money, probably 70-90% of a game's value is expressed through those first two things, so IMO they deserve a lot of attention.

Brian Taylor
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I obsess over hidden items/easter eggs in games, or just hidden places. When I first fought the Underfrykte Matron in Oblivion I was so scared but at the same time I felt like I had discovered something hidden away. On the old Final Fantasy's I loved finding the hidden islands in the corner of the maps or floating above the world (FF9). Those are the things I love, the things they include, but don't hand to you through the game.

Glenn McMath
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This is a great exercise. My list doesn't really stay within the boundaries of Game Design, but sometimes it's fun to colour outside the lines:

Cohesiveness: Where everything in the game (art style, HUD, character abilities, progression systems, currency, etc.) feels like it fits with and reinforces everything else. Example: Psychonauts

Rhythm: When game inputs are more (or only) effective if performed to a specific rhythm, provided it's well articulated, through audio, visual, or tactile feedback. Example: wall jumping in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

Foreshadowing/Payoff: Particularly noticeable in effective level/environment design, I love it when games show me a really awesome area well before I actually reach it. It's even better if I can also see the area that I saw the awesome area from, from the awesome area. It helps reinforce feelings of progress and accomplishment. Examples: Ico, Jak 2

Emotionally Meaningful Character Interaction: Either by infusing gameplay relevant actions with an emotional element (through narrative, animation) or by including interactions that serve no function other than emotional expression between characters. Examples: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, A Boy and his Blob (Wii version), Prince of Persia (Sands of Time, as well as the 2008 version)

Personal Narratives: Ok so this really doesn't have much if anything to do with game design, but I love it when games tell a personal story. Saving the world is all well and good, but I prefer when games focus on a well fleshed out and interesting character. Examples: Grim Fandango, Syberia

Majd Abdulqadir
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One thing I almost always put in my games is a slowdown item.

I just love the feeling when everything around you slows down for a while.

Ian Richard
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This actually reminds me of another thing that always makes me feel giddy... though falls into the category of bugs that should be fixed.

In old-school shooters they sometimes had more bullets on screen than the hardware could handle. This leads to slowdown whenever the action became hectic. This slowdown leads to tense moments where I find myself planning paths through bullets grateful for the extra time to think.

Again, I am in no way condoning unintentional slow down in games. I just find that the slowdown during extremely dangerous sequences can sometimes, just by luck, feel cinematic and add to my experience.

Altug Isigan
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Unpredictability versus Decisions Pipeline: I like games like The Sims or X-Com: Apocalypse, in which I have to review and change previous commands due to the game system creating situations that I could not predict.

Extra-Life sounds: From Centipede to Zuma, I just love to hear the sound of earning an extra life.

Recognition of love for the game: I love it when games recognize you love them and spend all your time with them. FM Manager keeps track of your playing times and comments on your level of addictedness; The Sims starts to tell you stories about its dev team members if you play it long enough; and maybe unintended recognition to your effort, but Civ2 returns to Future Technology 1, if you reach Future Technology 255 ;)

Reaching the "machine" limit: No matter how efficient you drive, that track in Need for Speed 2 can't be taken faster: its just under 54 seconds. You know you were perfect when you reproduce exactly that time, over and over again.

Theme songs that make you remember about the wonderful moments you had with that game: The Jean-Michel Jarre midi re-make at the end of Yie Ar Kung Fu.

Reference to Art, Literature, Philosophy etc + funny Self-reference

Titi Naburu
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Since my three games are very amateur and I did them alone, they are full of fetish. First of all, all have cheesy taglines. Second, all have sky blue background on menus (it's the colour of Uruguay's national sports teams) and Verdana font - you can call that "corporate image". All let the player adjust lots of gameplay parameters. All have sounds made with my mouth - and barely modified.

Christopher Lovell Parker
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I like seeing my character! I prefer a third person shooter over a FPS, and I like seeing my characters in a battle! I've neglected getting into Etrian Odyssey for the handheld systems even though it had interesting classes and character designs, and I haven't gotten into the Earthbound series despite its place as a classic, because I couldn't see my characters during battle! It felt like managing numbers or something - i could barely care that the numbers of [Name] were less! I did put some time into Dragon Quest Monsters which still doesn't let me see my monsters during battle, but i am sure I would've enjoyed seeing more of my monsters!

I realize there's a deliberate reason with FPS games enabling the players to feel like they are personally doing the things in the game, and it's worked wonderfully for me in games like Fallout 3, Skyrim and Team Fortress 2 where first person view is far better than the third person views. But for most of the games I play, I prefer third person view. Perhaps it's the overall better sense of the things around me and where boundaries lie.

MOBA games, RTS's, 2D or 3D? platform games, in a flying game i prefer to see my ship, car, character... etc!

I also love a good noticeable critical hit! Shake the screen! make something explode! a louder and distinct noise! A bigger damage number that's a different color is nice, but more can be done than simply that! Torchlight knows what's up - I had a big stupid smile the first time I got a critical hit in that game. I think it had all of the above!

Sequence breaking like Julian Impelluso said! especially if it doesn't break the game! I really like the way it was done in Shadow Complex for XBLA- where alternate routes were available if you were observant and properly equipped. Such paths could lead to power-ups and/or ammo and potentially better positioning against enemies "guarding" an area.

Flavor Text! The way Dungeons of Dredmor describes their classes, skills, and items is probably some of my favorite ever. "Acidic Damage: Acidic damage is why you should always be careful when attempting to make a really large baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano." -Dungeons of Dredmor

The capability for chain reactions! Recently while playing Skyrim, I stumbled too close to a bandit camp. Since they were bandits, they attacked me for sport and loot. I didn't take kindly to their assault and ran away past a Mammoth. It was a joy to see the Mammoth thrash those hoodlums before it set its eyes upon me and became my new nuisance :T

and the last favorite design quirk I can think of for this list will be:

Friendly Fire amongst enemies! It's enjoyable when I can get my enemies to blow each other up or otherwise cause them to whittle down their own numbers while I do what I can to keep alive and drop them as well.

Nice topic! The responses are nice also!

David Pierre
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DOTs. Being able to poison or burn things is always fun.

Summons. The only reason why I could possibly play something like Golden Sun and not get bored

Sliding-on-ice Puzzles. This is definitely because of Chip's Challenge. I remember spending about an hour on that one stage trying to get it right, and when I did, I felt like a champion.