Drift 1: Loss of Context

The game will introduce a mechanic to you early on, something perhaps unusual but reasonable in context. Over time, the game will expand from its simpler beginnings. By then, you will be so used to the mechanic that you will rarely pause to notice that it makes absolutely no sense in its new or expanded context.

Example: The Lord of the Rings Online™ uses “morale” instead of health. You don’t die, you just get too disheartened to continue, and you must rally. Sure, goblin spears to the ribs hurt, but you can keep fighting so long as your morale does not flag. A Minstrel’s songs raise your spirits, and you carry on. Then you start meeting trolls, the sort that would crush your skull and limbs with their giant clubs and rocks. You could conceivably rally through a few broken ribs. Then you get to poisoned water that instantly drains all your “morale.” Insta-death from morale drain? Then you get to lava flows, where you burn to death and your armor melts. Life is just a song away!

Example: pills in Left 4 Dead. Reasonable for ignoring scattered cuts and bruises, and then someone starts carving a hole in your chest.

I wanted to use Katamari Damacy as an example, when you start rolling up clouds as if they were huge sheets of plywood and fire that still burns, but Katamari Damacy is sufficiently insane to defy logic anyway. Instead, tell us your favorite example from your current game. Telling riddles to wolves? Backstabbing buildings? Tripping gelatinous cubes?

: Zubon

10 thoughts on “Drift 1: Loss of Context”

  1. Of course there are some things that do indeed make you frown and make you wonder who ever came up with such a mechanic, but then again we might develop a sense for those things and actually care the older we get, a 15 year old – and he might be much more important than a 30something for a designer to keep in mind – will simply not care at all, even if he ever notices. And finally these hickups help to keep game and reality seperate after all.

  2. Backstabbing buildings indeed. My CoV Stalker would routinely attempt to backstab, and frequently *miss*, parked cars. A touch on the immersion-breaking side, I must say.

  3. The old Fallout (don’t know about the new one, haven’t played it) at least had the decency of making your character addicted to painkillers if you abused them. In other games I wondered why this never happened.

    Diablo/II? There are some spots where you had to drink a potion every couple of seconds pretty much. It was stupidly comic to imagine the character alternatively swinging and downing a health pot. It didn’t matter at lower levels, potion drinking was sparse, but some spots at the end… it was happy hour for red liquid.

    But I have to agree, of recent memory, the whole morale and minstrels tragedy in LOTRO is rather stupid. Not short bus stupid; in its own contained way I think it’s ingenious. But stupid as in… there was no need for it. I’m pretty sure early on it was dreamed as this huge change in healing mechanics that was going to revolutionize, etc, etc… but in the end you’re still looking at bars and instead of healing spells (which is passable and in-world sensical) you get chords and songs (which is ridiculous).

    Had they left the health bar as it should be and instead had minstrels affect another bar or statistic, dunno, call it ‘focus’ or “will to fight” that depletes automatically as you fight and must be replenished by a minstrel singing songs of valor from the back… without a minstrel or equivalent to keep that ‘morale’ up, your attacks do less and less damage. That’s at the very least more potable.

    One day someone is gonna make an MMO in which someone is hit, falls down and a healer has to run over there with actual bandages and medicine… and we won’t know what to do.

  4. My favorite is the Influence/Infamy mechanic from City of Heroes. It was a nifty idea, using “clout” as a form of currency, since superheroes rarely strip the bodies of the fallen checking for spare change. It gets a little strange after a while, though:

    1) Buying Enhancements from a “store” — OK, you trade in some favors, pull a bit of “you know me — you can help me” manipulation, you get an… abstract doodad that helps you by… doing something.

    2) Trading Influence: It’s a public endorsement, and you lose some influence because your street cred’s now riding on this other person’s actions. Err, all right, sure…

    3) The Consignment House, buying Fairy Wings or a Sledgehammer: Errrrrrmmmm….

    I second Van Hemlock’s quibble as well. I have *hurt* myself kicking a stopped car before, but I can’t say I ever missed.

  5. FYI Jules the morale/health semantic shuffle wasn’t meant as any sort of mechanical revolution, quite the contrary. It was simply to allow for traditional RPG damage/health mechanics to be used in a setting where canon doesn’t allow for the heroes to die and be resurrected.

  6. That’s a good explanation. Still the system doesn’t quite cut it or make sense. If the problem was resurrection, then just acknowledge it’s a game, players are resurrected after a fight and move on. No need to make things tacky or explicitly nonsensical.

    I appreciate what they were trying to do, but I think the system has more bad sides than good ones. There’s a ton of things in gaming that could be assumed and explained/non-explained away by abstraction, and this one I think should’ve been one of them.

    Acknowledge the medium has limits, that it is a game, resurrect your players and be done with it without saying anything; no need to bring out the lutes.

  7. As online gaming time is still a dream, I’ve been replaying lots of GBA/DS games. Currently: The Minish Cap.

    One of the mechanics is merging “kinstones” with NPCs that unlock secrets. The Minish, microscopic people you meet and interact with state that these secrets are actually them doing stuff and it’s not magical at all.

    Drift: Many of the Minish, despite allegedly being the reason for stuff happening, say this is magic.

    Drift2: For one of the items, you must merge kinstones with 4 walls hidden across the world. You trade items. With a wall.

    It’s a good thing I really love Zelda.

  8. On the other side of the fence, I thought myself too intelligent for a game, and it proved more intelligent than I was: Plants vs Zombies.
    I had the frozen peas, which freeze a zombie, making him much slower. Then, I unlocked the burning stump, which makes peas burn and deal much more damage.
    So, I put a frozen pea before a stump, so I could freeze zombies and cook them, right? It works in other tower games !
    Nope. My frozen peas were heated, and became simple peas.
    So I put a normal peashooter before the stump, and a frozen pea after. That way, I could freeze zombies and then cook them, right? Yeah right… The burning peas unfroze the zombies everytime.
    It’s perfectly logical that it does that. It’s just that… Not many games are !

  9. EvE Online’s bumping mechanism can range from funny to downright infuriating. Because the developers didn’t want to model fatal collisions between ships, ships automatically swerve to avoid each other when on collision course. The the closer the ships get before the bumping mechanism kicks in, the more dramatic the swerve. However, the effect doesn’t vary depending on ship size. A tiny frigate has the same effect on a capital ship as a mouse has on an elephant. And the elephant can’t even accidentally crush the mouse. A small group of frigates can keep a capital ship completely unable to maneuver, because the capital ship is constantly trying to avoid colliding with the frigates.

    And what happens when a ship is about to collide with a stationary object? Well… the ship, no matter the size, is shot out like from a cannon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS7llqy-uIU

  10. FFXI has several of them. You mentioned backstabbing buildings: can you imagine missing them? In campaign there are click points for offensive players to latch onto and auto attack, and you frequently miss a building that can’t move, and is the size of a three story house.

    There are also spells and job abilities. You want to make them more effective? You do so by changing clothes. You macro in often an entirely different gear set for a specific ability then back again. Some people macro in the etire 20ish slots of gear for different abilities.

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