Have you ever played a game and discovered something that wasn’t covered in the beginner’s tutorial? It may have been a secret combat move, or a completely unknown action that you discovered by chance.
Hidden game mechanics can make gameplay more dynamic and reward players with new experiences. If you’re developing a game, you need to incorporate hidden mechanics into gameplay. Here’s why:
To Thrill Your Players
Hidden game mechanics can thrill players and make them feel like they’ve discovered a secret no one else knew about, like secret endings or combat combos that blow enemies away.
When players are surprised by fun and hidden game mechanics, it can take gameplay to a new level, like how:
- Players can ride bears in Breath of the Wild
- In Dark Souls, you can throw a Lloyd’s Talisman to get treasure without fighting
- In Resident Evil 6, you can use Back+Dodge to immediately recover from attacks
Many developers keep some combat mechanics a secret so players can discover them “by accident” while playing. One great example of this is Mortal Kombat, which reveals the controls for a handful of moves and finishers.
Perhaps the only people privy to all of a game’s hidden mechanics are games testing services.
To Stack the Odds in Their Favor
Some hidden mechanics are designed to make players feel like they’re beating the odds. Players want to feel like they’re accomplishing their goals.
One great example is in BioShock. Developers designed the game’s AI-driven Splicers to always miss their first shot. This gives players a chance to react and calculate their next move.
In Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the developers wanted to reinforce the game’s central theme of sacrifice and struggle. To accomplish this, they made it so that the targeted enemy could break out of its usual animation cycle to make the combat feel more desperate.
There’s also a timer system that keeps enemies behind Senua, the main character, from attacking too quickly.
Players want a combat system that “feels good,” and they want to feel like they have a fighting chance – even when up against a swarm of enemies.
To Generate Excitement and Tension
While players want to feel like they have a fighting chance, they also want to experience the thrill and excitement of escaping death or surviving by the skin of their teeth.
In the original Assassin’s Creed, developers made it so that the player’s final block of health was the largest. This made players feel like they narrowly escaped death in an epic battle with enemies.
The developers at BioShock developed a system for the dynamic spawning of resources, which was tied to the player’s difficulty level. On easy or normal difficulty, resources players were short on would drop more often. At higher difficulty levels, money would be dropped instead of resources, which made resources feel scarce and force players to interact with vending machines.
To Keep Players on Their Toes
The introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) creates a dynamic environment where players never really know what they’re up against. Environments can also react and change based on the player’s actions.
These hidden mechanics make gameplay more interesting and surprising.
In Amnesia, for example, enemies get as close as possible while staying out of your line of sight. This mechanic makes players feel like they’re being watched and that enemies can pop up out of nowhere.
AI can adjust and adapt, too. In Alien Isolation, for example, AI can learn the player’s habits, like where they like to hide, and adjust their behaviors.
In other games, like Enter the Gungeon, enemies, like players, improve their skills as time goes on. At the start, they may be easy to combat, but the longer the player plays, the more difficult the enemies become.
Hidden game mechanics are just par for the course in game development, but not everyone is a fan of the practice. Many argue that these secret mechanics make gameplay unnecessarily difficult or, on the other end of the spectrum, give players an unfair advantage. Ultimately, developers are going to use these mechanics, regardless of public opinion, to make games more enjoyable to play. After all, we all want to feel good when playing games and not like we’re up against an unsurmountable challenge.