The scene is a scruffy bedroom back in 1999 or so and I’m trying to play Final Fantasy VII. The game’s been fair enough so far but a major character died a plot-death and all of a sudden I’m snowboarding. The graphics are different, the gameplay is a totally different game, even runs at a different number of frames per second. I am confused and put the game down after the very next save point, not to pick it up again for a few weeks. And even so, I didn’t complete it. I just couldn’t.
I’m not the story here, though. Final Fantasy VII however, does this kind of thing several times throughout. The game is a second-rate Road Rash when leaving Midgar, or a cheap Command and Conquer at Fort Condor. Or even a tiny Track and Field at one point. I forget, there are so many of them – it’s almost like if someone were to intersperse Wario Ware Inc.‘s microgames with random battles and angst.
It’s not alone, of course. Many lengthier games use these dramatic-but-temporary shifts in genre and mechanic as a means to break up what otherwise would be a monotonous slog through over a day in total of play hours. Doom 3 emulates an arcade crane game at one point as you, the player, remotely dispose of toxic waste barrels using a robot crane whose user interface was clearly designed by someone who hates you. Sonic Adventure 2 becomes a storyline-mandated Ridge Racer clone of questionable quality at some point, I could go on. But I won’t.
I have been thinking of late though, about single-mechanic games. Usually arcade-style titles of the ’80s or ’90s (though as always, exceptions do exist), games which decided on a game mechanic and damn well stuck to it. Super Mario Bros. was out and out a platform game and didn’t abruptly change mechanics mid-game until the third title (not counting Doki Doki Panic: Mario Reskin Version of course – but do the water stages count?), the original Sonic the Hedgehog managed it too; even the special stages used pretty much the same mechanics, albeit with tweaked parameters. Street Fighter 2 through 4 keep the same mechanic, too — differing from the first game in that the bonus stages keep the core mechanic active, making the game feel more cohesive a whole. Some may argue ‘more repetitive’ on that one, which is their call.
I have a personal preference for these, not sure if I’m in the minority or whatever here, but when ‘in the zone’ and completely immersed in the game space and the challenges it presents, I don’t like to be interrupted. Not by a knock on the door, not a phone call, and certainly not by the game itself.
I haven’t come to any conclusions here, just questions I’ll probably think about the answers to, if indeed there are any; is there a correlation to be found between game time elapsed versus mechanic-shifts? Therefore is there an ideal amount of elapsed time after which a change in mechanic is more beneficial to the player and their experience? Is there a limit to how many times this can be done?
And of course, of the players themselves; how many mechanics do they event want anyway?