Saturday, March 31, 2012


Okay, there may be something I misread in KirbyKid's definition of primary mechanics. The plural form. Nothing prevents the existence of a group of mechanics that together are primary -- that is, essential to the game. Clearly, MOVE/WALK is a primary mechanic in almost every game that feature an avatar. It's so common, that it can be thought as granted by default, and arguably, few people will complain if it's ommitted from an analysis.

But some sub-genre feature a set of additional ex-aequo mechanics -- JUMP + SHOOT in Mega Man series, for instance -- where removing any of the component makes almost any part of the game impossible to play. This is likely to be true as well in Rayman ...

below is the full discussion, for archive purpose.

That will take me more thoughts to analyze Commander Keen and The Fox again ...

I'd have posted this on "the post on primary mechanic", but I fail to find it, if any. Playing Rayman 1 and Shantae recently opened my eyes on the fact that not all platformers use "JUMP" as the primary mechanic, and that it's actually quite the signature of a Mario game.

On the two games mentioned above, the attack move seems to be the primary mechanic, but I find it hard to apply it to games such as Commander Keen. It looks like some designers just decided to balance the various mechanics they offer to the player so that there isn't *one* action that is the core of the gameplay. In the case of Keen, if I was to pick one keyword to describe the game, that would be "explore", but that's definitely not a mechanic.

I'm curious to know how you consider this example, if you happen to have played the Commander Keen series.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPypeBros
If a game's primary mechanic isn't JUMP or a mechanic that manipulates/fights against gravity, then it probably isn't a platformer. It's probably an action game that uses some platforming mechaincs/challenges/elements.

I think I've played Rayman 1 on GBA and I've played the new Shauntae on DSiware. I know that Shauntae has a lot of combat and some puzzles which puts the whole game into the action-adventure category.

I haven't played commander keen, but the youtube video makes it look like it has plenty of exploring, collecting, maybe some puzzle solving, combat, and some platforming. So it wouldn't be a platformer.

I hope that helps. Genres are tricky.

March 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Thanks for your reply, Richard. That's one pretty short way to define "platforming genre" as soon as you have a solid definition of "primary mechanics", I must admit. That wouldn't have been my out-of-the-box definition, but it makes sense (and I'm far from being an authority on the subject :)

Thinking more about shantae, it would indeed be an action game with some platforming sequences (where ennemies may be altogether missing and JUMP becomes the button that *must*not*fail*.

It's pretty hard to do the same with the first Rayman. PUNCH may require JUMP to modulate it (a la megaman) and compensate the blind spots, and there is a mixture of platforming and action elements more than a real alternance. As if mechanics were here like abilities of an RPG characters, where some balance is ultimately required. So JUMP isn't what's put as the character-defining move, few power-up / secondary mechanics modulate the way Rayman jumps, except the FLOAT (?) mechanic, using his haircopter.

If I may refer to this picture on my recent post, would you say that the amount of interactions triggered by one mechanic is irrelevant (or not as relevant as I think) in defining it the primary or secondary mechanic ?

Do you think that makes sense to consider that, in some game, the boundary between primary and secondary mechanic may be fuzzy to the point that we have two ex-aequo primary mechanics (as JUMP/PUNCH would be for rayman) ? Or do you rather think I'm looking things at a sub-optimal angle that blurs *my* vision ?

(I'll dig some posts of you about the megaman series ... That may already provide some answers to all these questions).
March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPypeBros
You're getting at some of the trickiest parts of talking about video game genre. I was planning to write a post about genre but that's a long way off at this point. So I'll discuss the issue here.

1) A Primary Function is what type of action you do most in the game to win or beat the game. Often enough, the thing you do most in a game is a combination of various actions. This is why the genre of "action" is pretty wide spread. If a game has some platforming, some shooting, and some racing, we generally say that the primary function is action (like an action movie).

2) Primary Mechanics are mechanics that are required to beat the game or beat a level (if you're talking about a specific level or group of levels). Talking about primary mechanics is helpful to focus in on the "skill floor" or the set of mechanics and their required use to simply win.

3) Secondary mechanics are any mechanics that are not primary and therefore optional.

So while some examples are clear like Mario and Shauntae, other's are not as clear like Raymand. The truth is, there is no exact way to categorize a genre. In some ways the amount of interactions using primary mechanics. Sometimes we pick genre based on theme and feel rather than function. Sometimes there's a lot of fuzzy overlap. Genres are categories that are supposed to help us understand what the game is, but some games are simply a bunch of elements.

Looking at the required challenges of a game to determine the genre is a great way to go. But this method doesn't cover everything. Between the skill floor and the skill ceiling could be many different types of gameplay experiences that stress different mechanics.

To sum up, while we can accurately label what is a primary and secondary, mechanic, picking the genre of a game can be much more complicated.

March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Thanks. I'll meditate that.
March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPypeBros

Meditation output: it sounds like I had so far inferred that the "primary" mechanic was by definition a singleton -- likely not being a native speaker have misled me there.

You clearly have mentioned "primary mechanic*s*", so it means your definition is happy with the fact that a small set of mechanics are equally "core-important", right ?

I suppose you thus consider that both JUMP and SHOOT are primary mechanics of Mega Man (oh, and WALK as well, I guess, although it's so natural that it might belong to something like disappeared mechanics, which the player is barely aware of, as they are ubiquitous)

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPypeBros
To answer your question, Yes. But since a primary mechanic is defined as a mechanic that is mandatory for advancements/progression through a game or a particular level/challenge, the primary mechanics can be 100% of a game's mechanics. It's not necessarily a small set.

Yes, in MegaMan JUMP and SHOOT and MOVE are all primary because you must do these things in order to beat any level.

In Ikaruga MOVE and SWITCH (polarity) are primary, but surprisingly SHOOT is secondary. You don't have to shoot a single bullet to beat the game.

Good job meditating.

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