Friday, February 01, 2013

Action Games: Alternate Play

Since starting in Unity, I've been analyzing action games a lot. Action games are not something I've had a lot of experience designing.

I've starting to form a complicated opinion on action games and the nature of avatars. I've refined the term "action gameplay" to specifically mean any action taken while in a world with noticeable time pressure. So, yeah, shooting an approaching enemy is an action mechanic. But so is throwing a switch or jumping a crevasse, as long as those things happen in a situation where time pressure exists - such as if you're being shot at.

Right now, I'm working on the idea that the avatar is the critical component in classifying an action game. So, with that in mind, there are a few "classes" of action game mechanic.

Direct-action mechanics are one where your avatar has an obvious action they can take and it has an obvious, shallow effect. For example, shooting someone, leaping a chasm, opening a floodgate, etc. In general, these are actions where replacing your avatar with a talking rabbit plush toy would make them obviously not work.

Complex-action mechanics are ones where the game does a lot of your avatar-directing for you, or you have another tier of management on your character. For example, the ability to switch between several weapons, managing inventory, context commands more complicated than "use", dialog trees, and so on. If you replace your avatar with a talking rabbit plush toy and think "well, it makes just as much sense either way", then it's probably a complex-action mechanic.

Indirect-action mechanics are ones where the avatar doesn't act directly. His position and activities don't really matter. This is things like ordering soldiers around, cooking food, hacking computers, timing-based dance minigames...

Here's an example. You play an adventurer pushing your way through an alien city. You want to pick up that clay pot.

Direct-action version: you walk over and pick it up. You are now carrying a clay pot in your hands. Your hands are full of clay pot.

Complex-action version: you walk over and add the clay pot to your inventory.

Indirect-action version: you click on the pot and add it to your inventory regardless of where in the room the avatar is.

Here another example: you want to kill a bad guy with your magic blammies.

Direct-action version: aim at the bad guy and click. The spell shoots from you to him.

Complex-action version: click on the bad guy and select a spell, or visa-versa. The spell shoots from you to him.

Indirect-action version: click on the bad guy, and he is affected by the spell regardless of where you're standing.

This can get kind of fuzzy. For example, maybe you're playing a lane-shooter. The very act of targeting someone automatically moves your avatar to line up with them. Is that complex or indirect? I would argue complex, but the point is that these are just basic ideas, not laws. Similarly, most games have a combination of these kinds of mechanics: most shooter games are direct-action games with an inventory, at the very least.

Anyway, I'm just puttering around with these theories because I'm trying to think of good direct-action mechanics that aren't violent. I've come up with a few, but I'd love to hear more.

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