Shack Chat: What are your "must-play" video game mechanics?

We each discuss the game mechanics that make games wholly irresistible to us, be it petting dogs or Souls-like design decisions.

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Shack Chat is back once again, our weekly feature where each Friday where we’ll ask the Shacknews staff to give their opinion on a particular topic, then open the floor to our dedicated Chatty community to provide a diverse mixture of thoughts on the subject. It’s a great way for us to get to know one another better while inspiring healthy debates with all of you passionate gamers out there. 

This week's question plunges the depths of the Shack Staff in terms of their favorite game mechanics, such as what their "must-play" mechanics include. These are the things that, like moths drawn to a flame, draw our intrepid editors to games and thoroughly hypnotize them. Our responses run the gamut in a fun and hilarious way, as we suspect Shackers' responses will as well. Be sure to share your thoughts with us after seeing what the staff had to say!

Question: What are your "must-play" video game mechanics?


Red Dead Redemption 2

Games with Bears - Bill Lavoy, Best Canadian on Staff

Games with bears are likely to grab my attention, especially if I can hunt them and there’s some degree of survival element involved. I genuinely feel bad when I kill any animal in a video game and don’t have a good reason, so when I hunt a bear it’s about improving my situation, not just an exciting hunt, although that’s definitely part of it.

Whether we’re talking Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Long Dark (which I’ve mentioned three weeks in a row), going on a bear hunt is always an adventure. It begins with me deciding that I need to go bear hunting, planning where I’ll hunt, where I’ll camp or sleep, and then actually embarking on the journey. When the hunt begins, I get nervous. Bear hunting in video games is a high-stakes activity. Screw up and you get mauled, but do it properly and you get a combination of satisfaction and tangible reward.

Bear hunting in video games is a way for me to live out something that fascinates me, which is real bear hunting. I took the time to watch some footage of this, and for the most part people are hackers sitting in trees and using bait, which makes me furious. Way to go, bud, you shot a bear while sitting 25 feet up a tree and the bear had its entire head in a barrel looking for a meal so it could survive the winter. No thanks. I feel bad enough killing digital bears in games.


Jetpacks - Asif Khan, Chief Puppy Wrangler

I have long said that if you add a jetpack to a video game that it instantly becomes better. Duke Nukem 3D changed the world of FPS forever with the introduction of his jetpack in a shooter game. Jetpack Joyride caught the mobile gaming landscape by storm, and even Pilotwings shipped with an awesome jetpack minigame on the SNES. If a developer puts a jetpack in their game, I will play it.


Jumping Flash

The Double Jump - Blake Morse, Reviews Editor

Two things are always better than one, right? So why have just one jump when you can have double, sometimes even triple the jumps? Sure, game developers could’ve just made the regular single jump longer and higher, but why do that when you can spit in the eye of physics and have characters somehow miraculously do a second jump in the middle of the air with absolutely nothing underneath them to push off of?

Just the concept itself is like a great big middle finger to Sir Isaac Newton and every single physics professor to come after him. Ninjas and robots are leaping everywhere and they just have to groove on it. Take that math and science!

If I had to pick a particular favorite double jump from a certain game it would probably be the first-person leaping of Jumping Flash, a game that is mostly designed around using magical jumps to maneuver through levels properly while giving an enjoyable sensation of free falling here and there. I also really dig the space ninja leaping of Warframe that helps players cover a lot of ground while dodging enemy attacks with some elegance and finesse. But honestly, there’s just so many fine examples of well-made double jumps throughout the history of gaming that I could probably go on for hours and hours citing examples.


Card Games - Kevin S. Tucker, Nordic Legend

One of my favorite things to find in a video game is a card-based minigame. Common card games like Poker can be fun, but I’m mainly talking about unique card games that feel like proper experiences in their own right. Gwent in The Witcher 3 is an obvious highlight, of course, but the first card-based minigame that really caught my attention was Triple Triad back in 1999 release Final Fantasy 8.

Not only did Triple Triad have me collecting as many cards as possible, which is the standard procedure with video game collectibles, it also pushed me to talk to many NPCs as I could find. The only way to know if someone was down for a round was to approach them and ask. And, in the frequent times when they’d agree, I’d get to play what was then one of the most addictive card games I’d ever known.

I still think about Triple Triad from time to time. It was simple, far simpler than Final Fantasy IX’s Tetra Master. And although I didn’t much care for regional rules (especially Random), I very much enjoyed trying to fill out a complete card collection. In fact, if not for the addictive properties of Triple Triad, I may have never touched Gwent, or even sunk 600-something hours into The Elder Scrolls Legends.


Final Fantasy VII

Mini-Games - Greg Burke, The Video Jerk

While big AAA games have a ton of unique and interesting mechanics, I find myself drawn to mini-games. A great example is Final Fantasy VII. I think I spent more time in the Gold Saucer arcade than the whole story arc of the game. While not all mini-games are winners, most of them (especially in open world RPGs) are just fantastic, the most recent being Red Dead Redemption 2's poker. And who could forget fishing mini-games?


Skyrim
Skyrim

Fast Travel - Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

We've reached a point where worlds have become vast, expansive, and an adventure to explore on foot. While it's fun to look through every inch of that world, sometimes it can be a real pain to backtrack repeatedly. So any open-world game without a fast travel option is just unacceptable these days.

Even Marvel's Spider-Man, where the central premise is a guy in spider-themed spandex swinging across the city of New York, has a fast travel option. I love that there's so much to explore in gaming, but there are times when I just want to explore a certain corner and need to do so right now.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Investigating - Charles Singletary Jr., Not A Real Cop

My father, Charles Singletary Sr., celebrated 24 years as a Birmingham, AL police officer as of this week. He spent a bit of that on an FBI task force as well and family members always asked me if I ever had any interest in being a cop. The answer was always a swift no, but maybe some of my dad’s criminal justice interests (or constant watching of Law and Order in my presence) led to my love of well made investigative mechanics in games.

My interest in this mechanic didn’t only involve games strictly focused on crime investigation, like the Sherlock Holmes games for instance. I’d lose hours upon hours investigating every nook and cranny in games like Arkham Asylum, but I think Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is my favorite recent example.

The dulling of the sounds and sights in the peripheral while honing in on monster tracks, blood, torn cloth, crushed objects, and the like was euphoric. I relished the opportunity to follow my nose and figure out just what manner of events had caused the unsettling of the environment. The fantastic creatures and elements of the Witcher world made it that much more interesting, but I’m happy even just investigating simpler cases too. Red Dead Redemption 2’s tracking mechanic even serves as an investigation mechanic at some points, which is probably a large part of why I keep wandering off the beaten path. While I may have never wanted to be a cop in real life, it’s pretty cool to have that intersection with my dad’s career in other ways. I also don’t have to do the paperwork he has to do. Sweet.


Vehicular Manslaughter - Chris Jarrard, Clearly The Best Driver on Staff

Nothing in gaming makes me happier than running over people with cars, horses, or other modes of transportation. From the first moment I played the little-know cult hit Quarantine on my family’s computer, I knew that dragging unsuspecting pedestrians under the frame of my car was gaming at its finest. A year later, Interplay released Carmageddon into the world, offering the first true open-world driving experience and along with it, the ability to rack up points for running over people. The sequel to Carmageddon allowed the first video game occurence of vehicular manslaughter against 3D pedestrians, as well as barnyard animals and more exotic fauna that is more commonly found in zoos. Half-Life, Starcraft, and Ocarina of Time released in 1998, but I guarantee you that the most satisfying video game moment of the year was plowing a bulldozer into a ragdoll elephant, then seeing the elephant crash through its pen and crush a bunch of penguins into a bloody grease spot.

Sadly, top-tier vehicular homicide remained dormant in video games until 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV. Thanks to its use of the wonderful Euphoria physics engine for pedestrian ragdolls, GTA IV made me feel young again. I spent so many hours just speeding through the streets of Liberty City in an attempt to plow into as many people as possible. Vehicular manslaughter is more fun than any other mechanic in the GTA series, and remains so to this day. In 2018, Read Dead Redemption 2 is all the rage. Its fans extols the virtues of its living world, compelling narrative, and outlaw style, but I have the most fun driving my horse into innocents. It never gets old and I cannot wait to see what running over people in games will be like in 2030.


Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2

Petting Dogs - Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor

Games with any sort of ability to pet or otherwise interact with dogs (and cats) have a soft spot in my heart. Okay, so maybe Watch Dogs 2 isn't a great example, because I didn't really enjoy it that much. But you could definitely pet dogs in it, which I made sure to do at every opportunity. It's such a small thing, but if you're going to include pets in a game, you need to let me touch them. Otherwise, you're just wasting my time.

I make it a point, because of this, to play any game where there's an opportunity to give good boys and girls (all animals are good boys and girls) head, ear, and neck scratches. They deserve it, and since I only have room in my apartment for one dog who I love very much, I need the opportunity to spread my love for all furry friends however I can get it. So listen up, developers, if you're modeling animals for your game and don't let me pet them, you're going on The Bad List. I’ll still play your game, but I’ll whine about how I can’t pet the dog the whole time. For real.


Hollow Knight

Shortcuts - Sam Chandler, Guides Editor

Shortcuts, specifically, shortcuts that are opened after either collecting an item, powerup, new skill, or by simply exploring and pulling a lever. There’s something I love about finding a locked door that can clearly be unlocked by some device I do not currently possess or can only be unlocked from the other side. Shortcuts like these tell me a few important things about the game I’m playing: the world is interconnected, my character will grow in power with a new ability, and the shortcut will make my life a lot easier. It’s a delayed gratification knowing that I’m working toward something I can currently see but not experience.

This is really a love letter to the Metroidvania-esque gameplay mechanic where advancing through the game often means backtracking to an area that was previously inaccessible. In recent years, this has become a core mechanic or gameplay element in every Soulsborne title, “this door cannot be opened from this side”.

Similarly, the phenomenal Hollow Knight uses this throughout the entire game. Areas are completely blocked off, only becoming passable after one, or even two, new abilities are unlocked and strung together.

If a game offers shortcuts in this manner, I’m all in.


Dark Souls

Souls-like Mechanics - David Craddock, Long Reads Editor 

Souls-like mechanics stole my soul in 2009 and have been holding it for ransom ever since.

Demon’s Souls and its ilk get an undeserved rap for being the collective figurehead of the “hard-game club.” Souls-likes aren’t difficult. They reward patience and punish recklessness. That’s a lot to unpack for a “favorite mechanic” article, but Souls-likes are a gestalt. I can’t choose just one element, so I’ll attempt to do justice to the one I hold as the nucleus of the arrangement: Exploration.

Whether you’re picking your way through a new game for the first time or are on your 12th playthrough and are tearing through areas in an order specific to the build you want to make--like my broken-ladle character in Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin--Souls-likes are predicated on exploring areas.

Your goals define how you approach exploration. If you’re new to a Souls-like, you’re probably soaking up the atmosphere, studying enemy placement and patrol patterns, maybe searching for the lever you need to pull to open a shortcut back to a bonfire or other checkpoint. If you’re experienced, you likely know exactly where you need to go. The question is no longer, “How do I find my way there?” but “What is the most efficient route to take to get to the destination that holds the weapon/spell/ring/whatever to round out my build?”

No matter how many times you’ve played any of FromSoftware’s Souls-likes or the many competitors they’ve inspired, exploration is always rewarding, and after thousands of hours, keeps me coming back for more.


Disagree with our picks? Think we're a bunch of clowns? Let us know in the Chatty below.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    November 9, 2018 2:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shack Chat: What are your "must-play" video game mechanics?

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 2:44 PM

      It’s not really must play, but I spend a lot more time playing rogue-likes than any other genre.

      For me, a fixed game world = a fixed amount of time I will spend playing a game. But give me an experience that differs every time (like FTL, dead cells, diablo 3, or darkest dungeon to name a few) and I can watch the hundreds or even 1000 plus (FTL, D3) hours pass by.

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 3:07 PM

      I'm a big fan of the potential behind the Nemesis System. I think Shadow of Mordor provided a great introduction to the concept, with a couple kinks left to be ironed out. Unfortunately that didn't happen with its sequel, Shadow of War, but still I have strong hopes someone somewhere will nail it.

      • reply
        November 9, 2018 3:14 PM

        oh and whoever implemented glory kills in nuDoom deserves a raise

      • reply
        November 9, 2018 11:02 PM

        It’s not bad in XCOM2 War of the Chosen, but it’s very static compared to Mordor.

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 4:53 PM

      Full FMV. Looking forward to jumping into Shape-shifting Detective

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 6:14 PM

      I'd like more games to let you send good or bad stuff in game to people on your friends list.

      Like the diablo 3 nemesis system, but much much deeper with customization.

      Like choosing if it attacks or helps, and what kinds of objectives and rewards come with it

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 7:03 PM

      Jumping Flash was really fun for the time. It's hard to believe now that it was a d-pad controlled first person game.

      • reply
        November 9, 2018 7:09 PM

        Oh, and my favorite game mechanic is easily the hand drawn treasure maps and hunts in RDR. It was the first time a side objective in an open world game made such excellent use of the landscape and landmarks. Made you actually pay attention to your surroundings which allowed you to learn the lay of the land and eventually navigate without a map. A+++ feature. Incredible.

        I'll be super bummed when I finally play RDR2 if there's only 10 of them like the first game. I'd play a game that is nothing but those for 100 hours.

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 7:06 PM

      Open world in the woods I guess.

    • rms
      reply
      November 9, 2018 8:48 PM

      Singletary’s Investigation is one I can really back. The murder mystery sub quest in DX:MD has stuck in my mind for ages

      • reply
        November 9, 2018 11:00 PM

        Same here. I’ve loved that in a game since the Gabriel Knight days.

        Cannot wait for the unfortunately renamed Disco Elysium (formally No Truce with the Furies), which our very singular Singletary first turned me on to right here.

        https://store.steampowered.com/app/632470/Disco_Elysium/

        This seems like the apotheosis of all detective games.

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 9:30 PM

      I saw the FFVIII card game in there, and it reminded me of how addicting the snowboarding minigame was in FFVII

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 9:32 PM

      I always liked playing support roles in games. Medic in TF2, engineer in BF1942, engineer in TF2, healer in that one MMO I played, etc.

      It fits my personality well.

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 11:07 PM

      I like games where you play as an animal, particularly ones where they put a lot of effort into making the movement and controls response feel very convincing. Tokyo Jungle is the best example for sheer handling, but I also love shit like Mr. Mosquito, Eco the Dolphin, etc.

      Deadly Creatures is a completely unsung classic, with Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton, no less! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadly_Creatures

    • reply
      November 9, 2018 11:11 PM

      Loot!