Dev Blog: Part refinements and Emergent Design

Recently, Ben and I re-analyzed all of the weapon parts in Mech Retriever.  The results were a positive change overall, but any games that use “emergent mechanics” require a lot of playtesting.

“Emergent mechanics” are game mechanics that create “emergent order.”  Emergent order is un-intuitive properties that emerge in a system.  They are the indirect results of simple rules meeting randomness.

Let’s say you program  simulation “termites” that wander straight-ish in a field of random woodchips.  You make them pick up and carry woodchips they find, dropping previous woodchips to pick up new ones.

What do you think will happen?

Surprisingly, without being specially programmed to, the termites will gather woodchips into piles, and then gradually consolidate those piles until there is only one.  It’s an “emergent order” of the rules intersecting with their random movement.  You can check it out for yourself here.

Similarly, “Rocket-jumping” is an “emergent order” in a lot of first person shooters–a consequence of the physics engine intersecting with the available weapons and the randomness of player action.

These sorts of mechanics empower the player creativity and strategy.  They also require the game designers to test the ever living hell out of the game, to make sure that those “surprising properties” aren’t “horribly un-fun.”

Tune in next-time for a real-world example of how this applies to Mech Retriever.

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