February 14th, 2013
A game dynamic is a variable which affects two or more areas of a game system. For example, in many Japanese SRPGs, height is a dynamic. It affects the attack and movement range of units and the damage one unit gives to another. So, higher units have more range and slightly stronger attacks than lower units. The height dynamic allocates strategic advantage and disadvantage to certain areas of the battlefield, encouraging the player to plan their tactics around the map’s topography. In this way, dynamics make games more engaging. You can read more about dynamics here and here.
When writing about dynamics for my book on Wario Land 4, my thoughts drifted from game dynamics to real-life dynamics and how the dynamics that make life interesting could be emulated in a video game. Below are some theoretical examples that I’ve come up with. I found it quite fun putting these together, so feel free to share any of your own ideas in the comments.
- Energy is an artificial game dynamic.
- It can determine the speed of the avatar’s walk/run.
- It can limit the avatar’s actions and movement range in one turn.
- It can act as a decaying dynamic—as in Harvest Moon, where each action takes some energy—so that the avatar can only make so many actions before they need a rest.
- The restrictions of the former two dot points prompt the player to carefully consider their actions. That is to say, they add a strategic element.
- It can determine how long the avatar sleeps and therefore how much time they have available the next day.
- Drunkenness is an artificial game dynamic.
- It can rise the more the avatar has to drink.
- It can determine options available in dialogue trees (the drunker, the less polite).
- It can cause the avatar to stagger (I think GTA4 does this).
- It can smear and blur the screen and make HUD elements wander from their default positions.
- It can cause NPCs to look at you.
- Noise is an organic game dynamic.
- It can obscure the player’s ability to hear and therefore respond to NPCs.
- Different places can have different noise levels.
- It can determine whether or not an NPC hears something the avatar says to another NPC (like a secret).
- Noise could be the core dynamic of an aural version of Magic Eye, where the player must listen to audio until they hear a secret message.
- Different surfaces can make different noises when the avatar steps on them (Metal Gear).
Need to go to the Toilet
- This is an artificial dynamic.
- The more the avatar eats/drinks, the stronger the dynamic.
- Like energy in Harvest Moon, the need to go to the toilet can force the player to schedule their actions.
- When the need to go to the toilet reaches a certain threshold, the avatar could be given a run ability and the player could be prompted to engage in a short button-mashing exercise to “hold it in”. The greater the need, the more intense and frequent the button mashing sequences.
- The greater the need, the longer the avatar spends in the toilet.
- Sweat is an artificial dynamic.
- It can be presented on the avatar itself, form fits function.
- Being too sweaty can cause the NPCs around the avatar to act negatively towards them.
- On the other hand, sweat can be a positive attribute in some places, like the gym. It might cause NPCs to start a conversation with the avatar.
- It can persuade the player not to abuse the run mechanic.
- It can dynamically change depending on the seasons.
- Taking a shower resets the sweat dynamic.
- Oxygen is an artificial dynamic.
- Oxygen is quite common in games already, but instead of just being designated to swimming sequences, it can be used in other contexts too. Such as escaping a burning building. When the avatar stands next to smoke, their oxygen level goes down.
- It can be an indication of air quality, represented visually through smog, the colour of the sky, and whether or not NPCs wear breathing masks (I have no idea what these things are called in English. They’re called 口罩 kǒu zhào in China).
- Continuing with air quality, oxygen can determine the avatar’s running distance.
- Light is an organic dynamic.
- Resident Evil 5 incorporates light and shade into its gameplay, but from what I can tell, it isn’t really that deep—admittedly, I haven’t played much of the game, can anyone offer a second opinion? >_>
- When the avatar moves from shaded to bright areas, and vice versa, the game simulates the eye’s adjustment to lighting levels. The game designer or enemy AI can explicitly use this dynamic to obscure the player’s view.
- Looking into the sun stuns the player.
- Enemies/the player can use high-intensity lights or torches to temporarily blind the other party.
- Sunglasses reduce the effectiveness of bright lights.
- Enemies can detect shadows, and the player can use shadows to determine an enemy’s location.
What are some unique game dynamics in games you’ve played?