Posts Tagged ‘The Mechanic’

How Astroneer makes crafting fun

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Astroneer [official site].

Astroneer is a space game about hoovering up alien materials with a magic gun and listening to them plop into your backpack. And in this Astroneer has cracked something very special in crafting and resource management: it’s actually fun.

Developer System Era Software has put a peculiar focus on how resources are presented and how you manipulate them, and at its centre is an idea that’s surprisingly rare in games:

THE MECHANIC: Resources are physical Read the rest of this entry »

Why Dishonored 2 allows you to skip its finest content


This is The Mechanic. Taking a dive into Dishonored 2 [official site] with Harvey Smith, it marks the first anniversary of the column. Holy heck! I hope you’ve been enjoying it. I want to thank everyone who’s read The Mechanic, and all the amazing designers it has given me the opportunity to speak to. Here’s to many more next year.

In the city of Karnaca is a district that lies under mounds of encroaching dust. Home to the labourers of the silver mines, Batista has been worked into exhaustion. Its people are spent and the mines so overexploited that dust from them has been billowing out and falling over the streets and squares, the heavy wind whipping it up into storms and engulfing entire buildings.

Dust District is one of Dishonored 2’s largest levels, a dense network of byways, apartments and compounds peopled by downtrodden miners and two warring factions. But you don’t need to play any of it. In fact, the entire level is designed around an idea that speaks to Dishonored’s deepest design principles. Because the Dust District is all about:

THE MECHANIC: Skipping stuff

(Light-ish spoilers for both the Dust District and subsequent level naturally follow.) Read the rest of this entry »

How Enter the Gungeon brought bullet hell to the dungeon-crawler

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Enter the Gungeon [official site].

Enter the Gungeon’s conception was an idle conversation about what shape a game called Enter the Gungeon would take. And here’s what it led to:

1. It’s a dungeon-crawler in which you shoot guns.
2. You’re entering the Gungeon to find a gun so powerful it can kill the past.
3. Every enemy is a bullet.
4. The enemy bullets shoot bullets.

Great gouts of bullets. Bullets which radiate and fan out like flowers across the screen. Because if you’re going to make a game about guns, it kind of makes sense that it would feature:

THE MECHANIC: Bullet hell

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How turns make Thumper feel physical

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Thumper [official site].

“When people say they’re injuring their thumbs it’s too bad, but it’s kind of the best compliment you can ever get,” says Thumper’s co-designer and artist, Brian Gibson. “It means their nervous system is on fire when they’re playing.”

Thumper is a game that you feel. As you hurtle down its sliver of track, every twist, scrape and jump has a physicality that transcends its fundamental nature as a call-and-response rhythm game. You can only really play Thumper once it’s bashed its way into your subconscious, when the lights and booming sound of the abstract hell you’re flying through can brutalise your brainstem into remembering patterns of threats. And the threats that get to you, the ones that really make your fingers claw the pad, are:

THE MECHANIC: Turns Read the rest of this entry »

How Crusader Kings 2 Makes People Out Of Opinions

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Crusader Kings 2 [official site].

Meet Domnall, Earl of Osraige. He’s a pretty affable guy. He’s friends with his neighbouring rulers, and all seems peaceful. But he’s also ambitious and a just little crazy, and he’s about to make a big mess of the Emerald Isle.

Domnall is one of the hundreds of characters across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa that Crusader Kings 2 is simulating here in the year 1066. Whether the player is interacting with them or not, they’ll be vying with each other, allying, marrying, dying, giving birth, and generally doing all of the things that your ruler can do. Crusader Kings 2 is a game all about people. It’s about marriages and dependencies, accordances and kinship. And at the heart of how it models all these dense and messy human complexities is a single value that governs the way its little computer aristocrats behave:

THE MECHANIC: Opinions Read the rest of this entry »

How Little Choices Make Sorcery! Feel Epic

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Sorcery! [official site].

From Warlock of Firetop Mountain on I was pretty much obsessed with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Of course I was: they presented richly drawn fantasies in which I could play a part, my imagination spinning on their words and illustrations. (My favourite illustrator? Obviously Russ Nicholson.) Inkle’s Sorcery! series, four text-based games adapted from Fighting Fantasy co-creator Steve Jackson’s original gamebooks, capture all that made Fighting Fantasy special and add a magical extra: the dynamism of videogames.

In fact, Sorcery! often feels more dynamic and alive than videogames. As you progress through the books, your adventure keeps getting richer, the world more responsive to your passage. It’s partly down to the increasing freedom you have to explore, but more, it’s because each book is filled with choices that feel like they have consequence; that the game is watching and remembers your every move. Sorcery! is fluid and feels player-directed, and yet it’s strongly authored. It’s like Steve Jackson is writing it for you as you play, reacting to your every action.

There’s no AI here, though. Sorcery!’s magic is down to a system that’s far simpler, but yet results in at least as much intricacy. This fantasy epic is actually just a lot of:

THE MECHANIC: Little choices

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How Virginia’s Cinematic Editing Works

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Virginia [official site].

Virginia is a new game from studio Variable State about two FBI agents investigating the disappearance of a child. But its story is less about that mystery than it is about the lines you draw between the fragmentary events, images, locations and characters you witness, as well as lines you draw towards things you sense you haven’t.

Like Brendan Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving, Virginia tells its story through a technique that’s absolutely native and everyday to filmmaking but it’s novel to games, at least outside of cutscenes. Games are meant to be unbroken realtime, right? And yet powerful and subtle dramatic effects are possible through:

THE MECHANIC: Cutting

(Light spoilers and references to events in the game naturally follow.)

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