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Hold the tomatoes: Focusing on primary gameplay

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It's important for a game to have a clear idea of what its focus is: Mario jumps, the Master Chief shoots, and we all know how the Katamari prince rolls. This doesn't mean the core gameplay can only consist of one thing: Link fights monsters and solves puzzles, Kratos kicks ass and chews bubble gum and sadly, ancient Greece was not much of a gum chewing civilization. Instead, this is to say that there are fundamental elements without which the game would be radically different and more importantly for this blog, elements which are layered on top.

This is fine and dandy of course, except when the stuff layered on top is also forcibly shoved in like a tomato on an otherwise delicious burger. Doing this potentially interferes with whatever the player has chosen to pursue by opting for the key design mantra the game is built on. Okay, look at it this way: what if Halo required players to perform karaoke to reload? It would interfere with the pure shooting at the game's heart and people would be upset. Or they would be, if that idea didn't actually sound pretty cool. Okay, so, what if, to reload, you had to eat a whole tomato?



I'm not advocating that things like this be removed completely. However, if it's an impediment to or distraction from the main gameplay, than it should be something that the player can choose to ignore it like one does a crying child. That said, since many of these layers can be entertaining or engaging, they should be kept in so the player can, continuing the analogy, seize and throttle them if they choose.

I really dug Mass Effect 2's revamped inventory because of this. Bioware put a greater emphasis on the character interaction and squad shootering around which the game revolved. This meant a lot of other stuff fell further into the background and while this can be seen in a negative light, humour me and ignore everything but the inventory and, in particular, the armour. ME2 eschewed a traditional system in favour of a single suit whose attributes could be altered by way of modules available for purchase in shops around the universe. If it helps, think about it like you throwing out your entire wardrobe except for one white shirt. Now, rather than deal with a messy closet full of clothes, you can just use a magic marker to draw a design on your shirt every day and wash it off when you want a new one. Versatile ensemble, spacious dresser, pleasant odour if you get a scented marker to cover up the ungodly smell of your decay - everyone wins!

What I like about this system is that it means that someone who wants to do nothing more than bring sweet, bullet heavy justice to the universe isn't bogged down by having to sift through enough clutter to make their own planet. At the same time, someone who wants to invest the extra energy is free to comb the space stores to their heart's content. Neither is discouraged from playing how they want since the modules don't make the armour strictly better, only different. Going through the game with every piece at your disposal is as feasible as ignoring the customization available and so the central mechanics are only as delineated as you want them to be.



By contrast, Borderlands is all about the looting, so it's unreasonable to think of trimming the inventory in the same way. That would then cut into one of the game's main features and so it'd be a poor design choice to do so. Plus, it would probably make Brick angry and nobody wants that. Since Mass Effect's exploration is driven more by plot and characters, it's understandable that the inventory system be adapted to facilitate this rather than take time away from it. Sure, we all want to look pretty, but in Mass Effect, we're not superficial. We talk about feelings.

Another example that's incredibly relevant to me these days is the dynamic values in Pokemon. The game has all these dang complimicated stats, but it remains one of the most accessible RPGs out there. It's as possible to get through the game completely disregarding these variables as it is to, and I'm quoting here, "poop in socks" trying to find the perfect monster. My unwaivering tactic of packing my team with big, red, scaly monsters will get me through because the nuances of the game aren't forced on me. Instead, they're left to be pursued only by those who really want to take the time to find a meek Kakuna or flirty Voltorb or whatever unwholesome adjective/noun combination they want. Domineering Jynx? The point is that the central mechanic of "spam dragon rage to kill things" isn't needlessly obstructed by what's heaped on top of it.

I'm not going to fault any developer for choosing to include content that makes their game richer. I will however kick and scream like the belligerent man-child I am when they throw obstacles in the way of the game I want to play. There is no definitive line between primary and secondary mechanics but if something can be made to be neglected without changing the overarching experience then it should be made as such. Some of us love burgers but we should be able to ask the developers to hold the tomatoes.

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About Beyamorone of us since 1:10 PM on 06.24.2009

I知 a gamer. Take a minute and get over that shock. I can say I知 an Xbox man, though I値l support anything that advances gaming (I love you Sackboy). I致e also got a DS Chunky, so I can take this whole nerd thing on the road.

As far as genres, shooters and western RPGs top my list. Halo, Fable, and Morrowind, for instance, rock my socks hard. Of course other things, stuff like Animal Crossing and Kingdom Hearts, do their share of stocking rocking.

In the world outside of buttons and pixels, I知 an engineering student (that nerd thing I mentioned? I do it hardcore) on the west coast of the Great White North. I知 a fan of a harder rock, bands like Breaking Benjamin and Hurt, though I値l kick it (very much figuratively) to stuff ranging from The Fray through Franz Ferdinand to Five Finger Death Punch. Optimus Prime is my hero, but I do love Starscream. Finally, thumbs up to you for reading this. You池e never getting that time back.


Kirbey by the talented and generously endowed (probably) Enkido