TA Top Five: Gaming Mechanics Of This Gen

By Andrew Ogley, 2 years ago
As we moved from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360, it wasn't enough just to shoot things, blow things up, or drive very fast. As gamers, we now wanted more choice in the way we were able to carry out such actions. We wanted more from our games and with the introduction of new consoles we expected more. Such demands meant that designers had to come up with something new, and so we saw the growth of game mechanics, ideas and concepts that would change the way we played, either by our own choice or by that of the game's designer.

Whilst it remains true that not all the mechanics were first discovered during this generation, after all there is very little that is original, they were further developed, refined, and popularized to the point that we almost take them for granted. They have subtly enriched and enhanced our games making them more accessible, more challenging, more social, and most importantly, more fun.

Honorable Mentions

Horde Mode(s) - Gears of War series, Halo Series, Call of Duty
GoW2 Horde Mode

Back in 2002, Epic released their shooter Unreal Tournament 2003. Along with the usual "Deathmatch" and "Capture the Flag" modes, it also included a little known mode called "Invasion" in which a group of players would team up together and fight off ever-increasing waves of alien enemies. Six years later, Epic re-introduced the concept in Gears of War 2, this time renaming it to "Horde" and encouraging players to form up in small squads and fight off wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. The concept has gone on to become such a popular mechanic that it has been incorporated into a number of big name AAA shooters, under various titles like "Firefight", "Invasion", "Zombie". Whilst it might have been simple in concept, and a little less competitive than other game modes, it demanded clever strategies and close teamwork among players which might have accounted for its popularity.

Drop-In Co-op
4/3/11 Screenshot 6

Whilst co-op has been around for a while, it usually required players to enter a separate dedicated mode in the game. However, there have been a number of titles this generation that have enabled players to seamlessly drop in and out of, other player's single player games, help or hinder that player, or simply tag along for the ride. There is something intriguing about being in the middle of a game and having an unexpected visitor join the party. Playing games like Dead Island (Xbox 360), it made you feel as if you weren't alone in your quest for survival. A friendly face is, after all, always welcome. A simple mechanism which gets an honorable mention.

Audio Logs, Intelligence Dossiers, Secret Files - BioShock Series and Call of Duty Series amongst others

Quote Top Five Bioshock

With game designers wanting to tell us a story without breaking the player's immersion in the game, some new techniques were needed. Standard cutscenes were too disjointed and jarring for the player and led to frustration as control was taken away even if it was only for a short period. The Half-Life titles used an interactive sort of cut-scene, leaving the player in control whilst the story was told around them, but it could still slow the pace of the game down. Audio Logs were a subtle way of solving the issue, enabling players to discover elements of the story for themselves usually in the form of intriguing little tidbits and sound bites. The mechanism is used in various forms, in many different games, and usually collecting all of the elements of the story contributes to an achievement. It's a subtle way of fleshing out a story without interrupting the player, and for that reason it gets an honorable mention.

Top 5

5. Cover Based Shooters - Gears of War, Vanquish, Spec Ops: The Line
10/6/11 Screenshot 2

Initially cover based games were limited to the stealth titles, like Splinter Cell, whilst shooters were essentially first-person, run-and-gun affairs. This all changed when Epic introduced the first Gears of War title. A third-person shooter which demanded that the players use all of the available cover they could find. Failure to do so was severely and swiftly punished. Knowing that the players would be forced to seek cover, designers could make firefights more furious and intense. The mechanic introduced contextual use of cover, mantling, and techniques such as blind fire to suppress the enemy. Following the success of Gears of War, games such as Vanquish, and Spec Ops: The Line used the same techniques. A slightly more innovative implementation was in Deus Ex: Human Revolution which seamlessly switched between first and third-person as the player slipped in and out of cover. Cover based games made a big impact and therefore make it into the Top Five.

4. DLC
Dragonborn 11/15/12 12

It could be considered debatable whether DLC is really a gaming mechanism or simply a means of delivering more content. However, it's clear that the ability to extend games with additional content has been a key part of gaming in this generation. DLC can extend worlds, introduce new missions, new characters, new maps, new weapons, and in some cases, enable a player to replay games from an entirely different character's perspective. Highlights included "Dragonborn" for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and "Citadel" for Mass Effect 3, both mini-epics in their own rights and demonstrating how well DLC could be used to deliver exceptional extra content for fans. Despite the obvious commercial side of the DLC, we still appreciated having the life of our games extended and therefore a Top Five placing.

3. Persistence over Games - The Walking Dead, Mass Effect Series
Season 2 screen 2

This is a recent development facilitated through episodic and epic titles spanning a number of parts such as The Walking Dead, and Mass Effect. Often, we play through a series of titles having to make a number of key decisions that influence how the game's story progresses. When the sequels arrived, those decisions were conveniently brushed aside, or history was rewritten. However, with Mass Effect, most of the key decisions mattered and were carried over from each of the earlier games. What you did, and how you played in those titles continued to influence the game as it reached its conclusion. Similarly, in The Walking Dead, decisions and actions from the earlier episodes were remembered and carried over. For a gamer, it felt that the time, effort, and thought that we had invested in those earlier games was preserved, and throughout the series, you felt like your actions continually contributed to the eventual final outcome.

2. Multiplayer Perks, Killstreaks, Leveling, and Rewards - Call of Duty Series, Gears of War 3
CoD Perks

When we moved in to this generation, single player games were still the predominant force with multiplayer being considered as an additional mode, and something that was tacked-on to extend the game's life and provide a little extra fun. Over the course of the generation however, there was a shift in the balance with multiplayer becoming increasingly important and in some cases, surpassing the campaigns and single player portions for certain titles. This change in focus meant that multiplayer would also become more refined, simply shooting other players to rack up kills wasn't going to be enough anymore. Multiplayer games such as the Call of Duty franchise started to encourage players to adapt their playing style, with the customization of load-outs and the application of special skills in the form of perks. In-game skills were also rewarded; killstreaks would allow players to call in special packages, such as a friendly radar or attack helicopters. The games would also reward XP to players, allowing them to progress through ranks, unlocking even more options for their onscreen warriors, and as service to our egos, games like Gears of War 3 would have ribbons and medals for achievements and in-game heroics. For the ultimate show of skill, players who reached the ranking limit set by the game could choose to start all over again, to prestige or re-up, scrapping all of their hard won perks and start from the bottom of the pile. In this generation, multiplayer matured beyond the simple frag fest and has become a sophisticated and complex game mode in its own right.

1. Achievements - All Xbox 360 titles
Achievement Unlocked

What else could really top our list? After all, if it wasn't for achievements we wouldn't all be on this site, the Newshound team wouldn't be writing, and you wouldn't be reading. Achievements have been a clever way of manipulating the way we play our games without directly influencing the gameplay within the game itself. They can encourage us to replay individual sections of a title or even an entire game. They can persuade us to chase scores and quotas, to challenge our rivals and friends, search for hidden collectibles, discover secrets, play through different endings, and even make different decisions when we replay games. Achievements have generally meant that playing a game just once is no longer good enough. We feel compelled to go back, to push ourselves a little further, just so that we can improve our gamerscore. Instead of putting a game back on the shelf, and starting a new title, we find ourselves spending additional hours grinding and carrying out bizarre tasks, collecting hundreds of flags and orbs. We keeping going, just to get that extra achievement, to boost our score, to demonstrate our skills, and brag to our friends and the community. If you doubt why achievements rate so highly, then you only have to ask yourself how would you have felt if Microsoft had said that were not bringing achievements to the Xbox One.

The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.