Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Syndicate Gets Gimmicky

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 20 Mar 2012 16:00
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News flash! It's dumb. I said it would be dumb and it is dumb. I remember when I first heard about the concept my exact words were "no", "no", "no", "no" and "no", in no particular order. Because it's the same issue I have with motion controls. Saying out loud the conversation option or the order to move up is slower, less reliable and more effort than pressing the equivalent button. Some might argue as they do with the motion control bullshit that using your voice to issue orders is more "fun" or more "involving" (snnnrrkk), but I find there's little that hurts immersion more than hearing my reedy half-asleep voice in the middle of a science-fiction laser battle.

What I didn't anticipate was one amusing incident when my housemate walked in while I was in the middle of a conversation, and as we discussed the on-screen events, the Kinect interpreted something he said as one of the dialog choices. But it was the choice I hadn't wanted to make. I think it was in a conversation with my girlfriend from the previous game in which I had wanted to make it clear that she should hit the road 'cos Shepard is a rutting stag that can't be tied down, sister. But I ended up going the gross kissy-poo path and that put paid to my 100% Renegade ambitions. I also can't be certain but I think the game managed to interpret its own audio as me making a dialogue choice at one point, which no one can tell me is good design.

So those are the things that are gimmicks, but what things that one might think wear a little bit of the gimmick wallpaper are actually not gimmicks by my sneering, derogatory standards? Well, there's the gravity gun from Half-Life 2, which is a core mechanic because the entire game is built around showcasing the Source engine's physics, and the gravity gun is your only weapon in the entire last section of the game. And then there's the Demon Morph power from Painkiller in which you get a powerful attack after collecting a certain amount of enemy souls. That's not a gimmick because it's a very very efficient attack and just more encouragement to kill everything, which is all you fucking do in Painkiller.

So my first pithy memorable definition for a "gimmick" in the negative sense is that a gimmick is a mechanic that allows you to achieve something in a less efficient way than the methods you already have. That covers the Syndicate and Mass Effect examples, but there's the other kind of gimmick: things like the forced vehicle or turret sections on rails in shooters that exist to present impressive action and graphics but in which you are about as involved as a patron strapped into a roller coaster car. Like the brief space shooter bits in Halo Reach and Killzone 3 that are nothing to do with anything else you do in the game. Not the same as the vehicle sections in Halo 1-3 and Half-Life 2 because in those cases (a) you're in control of where the vehicle goes and can still shoot in all directions and (b) you can get out of the vehicle whenever you want if you feel an upcoming cliff edge doesn't look friendly.

So maybe a "gimmick" is "something that interrupts core gameplay without necessarily enhancing it". But that doesn't really fit the Syndicate/Mass Effect examples, which don't interrupt but exist without purpose. We could always broaden the meaning to "game mechanics that trail and dangle off the core gameplay like hangnails with colorful flags on the end" but there's no reason a word can't have two definitions. I dunno. Feel free to debate this matter in the comments. I lost interest at "kissy-poo".

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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