Tuning Your Core Game Mechanic

It can be said that novels are about what characters think, plays are about what characters say, and films are about what characters do. Where does that leave games? Well, games are about what players do.

The actions that players perform and the reason for performing those actions are called the games mechanics. An example is the jump mechanic in a platforming game: jump to reach a platform.

A core mechanic encapsulates what the spirit of a game is really about at its heart. Usually it is the action that the player uses most frequently in the game and the foundation upon which the other game elements are built.

  • Core Action: The thing players actually do in the game
  • Core Purpose: The reason why players are doing it
  • Here are some examples of core mechanics in games:

    Game Core Action Core Purpose
    Chess Move pieces to capture opponent’s pieces
    Candy Crush Match 3 candies to destroy them
    Tetris Rotate pieces to create lines
    Super Smash Bros Attack to knock opponent back
    Doom Run and shoot to kill enemies
    World of Warcraft Fulfill quests to improve character’s abilities

    Some games have several core mechanics. A real-time strategy game has several core mechanics that define the game:

    • Explore to collect resources
    • Use resources to build combat units
    • Fight to defeat enemy combat units

    Because the player uses the core mechanic(s) over and over to progress from the game’s start to the game’s resolution, the core mechanic needs to be fun to do all by itself. There’s no point in creating challenging obstacles, intriguing goals, immersive levels or compelling storylines if the core mechanics isn’t well-tuned, because if the core mechanics are fun, the game won’t be fun.

    Many properties of even something as simple as a jump mechanic may need to be tweaked – which controls are used, whether the character needs to run to jump, how far or high the character can jump, whether the character can move while jumping, the effects of gravity, the maximum vertical velocity – before the action itself is fun.

    Once you’ve decided on what you want the players to experience while playing your game, determine what actions (mechanics) are essential for creating that experience. Next, prototype those mechanics – on paper if you can, or in software if you can’t – and refine them until the actions themselves are fun to do before moving on to the other elements of your game.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on July 27, 2015, in Game Design. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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