Mechanics and Abstractions part.3
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 11:23AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Abstraction, Call of Duty, Halo, Mario Kart, Mechanics, Super Mario Galaxy

Now that we have talked about mechanics and abstractions and ranked the various levels of mechanics by their design, I want to discuss specific games.

Many are willing to admit that concrete mechanics are superior to abstract mechanics for a variety of reasons the most important of which being that concrete mechanics tend to evolve into emergent gameplay and encourage self expression while abstract mechanics tend to reduce gameplay to trail-and-error and simple optimization. But, at the same time these gamers might not be aware of just how much they dislike abstract mechanics.

When given a choice of playing with a soccer ball or memorizing a computer data/coding system, my preference is the soccer ball. With a little gravity and other physics interactions, I can experience an infinite number of outcomes. To help shed some light on this situation, I'll use an example. Though we may be gamers of different ages and backgrounds, I personally believe that we should all play and beat Super Mario Bros. for the NES. This game provides such an exemplary example of game design and was so influential and important in the history of gaming, I find that it is only appropriate to continue to give it credit. Also, I reference it often in my blog posts. It's only 5 dollars if you buy it on your Wii.

In Super Mario Bros. players are awarded with points. You get points for grabbing coins, smashing enemies, beating the level with extra time, and nabbing powerups. But, when playing this game, are you ever concerned with your score? Does anyone care? Would anyone have missed it if it wasn't included? And if you're thinking that the points were just a convention of the games of that era, even Mario's latest 2D platformer New Super Mario Bros. has a point system. For the most part, all the factors that affect the gameplay in these Mario games are contained within the game's form. If I'm terribly ignorant to the gamers that go for score in Super Mario Bros. please let me know. Otherwise, it's fairly safe to say that Super Mario points aren't worth much.

But that's just one example. Every game is different. So I did a little thinking, and I've found a few pairs of games that have a lot in common. Each pair of games features similar gameplay elements, but one game focuses on concrete mechanics at high levels of play, while the other relies on an abstract system. If you have experience with any of these pairs, consider what level you played the games at, and ask yourself which game's gameplay you prefer.

Super Mario Galaxy vs Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Ninja Gaiden (Sigma) vs Devil May Cry 4

Mario Kart Wii vs Excite Truck

Halo 3 vs Call of Duty 4

In all of these examples, I prefer the gameplay of the game on the left compared to their counterparts. It bugs me when actions betrays form, and it can be exhausting memorizing special case after special case for a game filled with abstract gameplay mechanics. Tomorrow, I'll talk about a new DS game that has been gaining a lot of popularity that is the most abstract game I've played in recent memory. Keep it real (as opposed to abstract).


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