On "Outdated" Mechanics and their relevance


#1

During Section 2 of the board game course, Yann goes out of his way to single out “roll & move,” “lose a turn,” and player elimination mechanics as being highly discouraged and outdated.

While I agree with the general sentiment and also encourage looking for other mechanics, my question: IS there really such a thing as an outdated mechanic?

For example: sidescrollers were considered very outdated for a long time. But if you look at Steam nowadays, these games are having a huge resurgence under the “Retro” category. 8Bit graphics were laughed at. Now they’re all the rage under the “Retro” category. I could point out many more.

Shouldn’t one make the game that one wants to play instead of worrying about whether a mechanic is outdated? Or do we relegate these mechanics to the dustbin of history? After all, in a few years, roll & move games might enjoy their own Retro resurgence.


#2

That’s an interesting point. maybe I should have used the word “unfashionable” rather than “outdated”. The reason I encourage students to keep away from things like Roll and Move is that games built on that kind of mechanic tend to be very light on choice (or even negate choice entirely), which tends to put players off these days.

There’s also the idea that when roll and moves as we know them today were at their most popular, they were being used as instructional tools (there was a ton of moral instruction games for children in the 19th century, and snakes and ladders began as a way of teaching hindu philosophies). The essential experience was to have a little fun while learning something, and most educational games these days weigh the game more heavily on choice and consequence than on mastery of the topic.

As I read that back to myself,I realize that there’s probably an interesting thesis to be written on how our love of individual choice and agency in modern game is a reflection of our own “everyone is free to do stuff” social values. though even games like The Royal Game of Ur introduces some pretty interesting choice and tactics in a roll and move game.

But yes, you should work on the game you want to play. On the other hand, if you’re looking for retro there’s probably ways to recreate that without cutting out player choice. As it is traditionally used, roll and move mechanics tend to create games that have no interesting choices and thus aren’t played by adolescents or adults.

Naturally, all of this is entirely my opinion - there’s not Right Way to decide what should and shouldn’t be in a game. If someone has a burning desire to design a roll and move game, they should do so. If they have a strong reason for using roll and move (they’ve got an essential experience that will come alive if they do, for example), and they’re not just using it because it’s easy, the game may well work. Xia, Legends of a Drifts System is a roll and move game, for example.


#3

Roll & Move in particular are never my first choice, so I’m merely playing Devil’s Advocate and hoping to get some ideas and discussion going. But I do like to tackle the idea of unfashionable and outdated, however you wish to say it. The biggest examples I can think of are all PC games. RTSs, especially the base-building kind, are still rather left by the wayside despite the fact that very many people still play them. (If that wasn’t the case, Age of Empires wouldn’t be getting a revival!) Space flight/fight sims were unfashionable until Star Citizen broke every kickstarter record and proved that, hey, people still like to play these games.

Are there ways to put these unfashionable mechanics to good use? Do you think it’s worth exploring the topic more in-depth, or is it better to spend that kind of time and brainpower on other, more solid mechanics?


#4

I love that game!

We might be confusing mechanics with genre here. There aren’t a great many wildly popular Pac Man style top down maze games that I can think of, but various genres are coming in and out of fashion all the time.

If a mechanic strikes you as perfect for a game, or you really want to test it, you should test it! But I would always put the user experience first, and in most cases I’d be hard pressed to find a reason to put the random, choice free experience of roll and move at the heart of a game.

That’s just me though!


#5

Well, sometimes genre and mechanics are pretty closely linked. In this case, I referring more to the base-building and resource-gathering mechanics of RTSs, which was considered old-school and uncouth until Age 2 had such a huge release on steam.

I like the idea of player-first, and I guess it does depend on the target player. Some groups like the simplicity of roll-to-move as long as the rest of the game has more meaningful choices.


#6

For sure. And games like Ur really do make Roll and Move an interesting choice, so it’s all relative.


#7

It seems a good rule of thumb to avoid unpopular mechanics. Although, obviously, they may work pretty well for some games or some specific kind of players.

In my opinion, a good game designe pratice is defined by that designe choices that work well in most cases and I believe that a good game designe must know when takes with inovative decisions and when stick with the safe ones.

As much as I agree that some genres, and maybe some mechanics either, were put aside and then brought back, I also believes that some mechanics may be banished forever. (search for Boong Ga Boong Ga arcade)


#8

It may also be worth considering that convincing players to try a game where they have little or no choice because of the mechanics is going to be tough when they have so many other games to try.


#9

I couldn’t let this go by without acknowledging that it made me laugh out loud. Well played.