By and large, videogames aren’t the most innovative medium. It’s not usually considered a big deal for one developer to ape another’s mechanics or control schemes. A basic reskin is enough to convince whatever demigod that’s in charge of intellectual property laws to say, “Yeah, those games are totally different. Your game focuses on orcs while the other exclusively deals with Uruk-hai.”
The games that really rake in the cash tend to be the ten thousand shooter, slasher or puncher games that come out every year, where the primary variance is whether you’re blasting a giant bug in the abdomen with a laser, or a giant Nazi in the face with a Luger. At this point, most major genres tend to have the same basic mechanics and controls. That’s why every shooter uses Halo’s control scheme and most fighting games use the same buttons for punch and kick commands.
But there have been a few genuinely exciting mechanics introduced over the years that are worth stealing and reusing in future games. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet caught on, and perhaps never will. These are their stories.
Reloading in videogames is a necessary pain in the butt. Ostensibly, reloading is supposed to make the act of shooting a gun more realistic, but, in reality, it just becomes a three-second pause on your furious death spree. It’s not fun, but players have resignedly agreed it’s necessary to keep games balanced.
That’s why the “active reloads” introduced in the original Gears of War were so exciting. Rather than sitting back and watching the reload animations go by, we can actively try and time a button press for a quick damage boost. If they fail, their gun jams.
Suddenly, reloading becomes an exciting and stressful element of any firefight. And if you hate the thought of potentially causing your gun to jam in front of a shotgun-wielding maniac, you can just allow your gun to reload like normal. It’s a little slower, but it doesn’t inherently break the game or anything. It’s a genius system that absolutely should be implemented in virtually any shooter. Reloading should be a skill just like blind firing and no-scoping from two hundred yards away.
You may not remember Gladius, but it was truly a wonderful game. Whether you played as a centurion or a barbarian, each battle was a classic, turn-based RPG strategic affair, except for one twist. When attacking an enemy, a golf-swing meter similar to the Tiger Woods games pops up, and the player is forced to do some timing-based challenges to access the full power of an attack. If you’re performing a combo, even more skill is required to successfully pull off each hit. Different attack types come with other timing challenges and require new skills to pull off the moves. As your skills grow, so does your arsenal of available abilities.
Good strategy is still the most important element in winning a battle, but physical skills can now help bail players out of stickier situations. It’s pretty ingenious and brilliantly adds an extra layer of player agency not found in most strategy games where you just pick your attacks and take a nap while your characters begin their various pre-attack rituals.
Okay, there is a recent game called Danger Zone that apparently apes Burnout’s “crash mode,” but the game is developed by many of the people that worked on Burnout 3, so it doesn’t entirely count.
But besides that one game, it seems crazy how few franchises involving vehicles employ any sort of dedicated “crash mode.” Even more outrageous games like Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row don’t have dedicated sections where you cause explosive damage to other vehicles just by smashing into them in congested intersections. You can run around with a rocket launcher all day, blasting apart cops or oil tankers, but as soon as you hop in a car, you’re limited to shooting single handed weapons out the window or throwing dynamite. It’s sort of a let down for a game that’s all about both destruction and vehicles.
Because, let’s be honest, smashing our car into traffic is something we’ve all dreamt about doing at some point. We’ll never do it, obviously, because hurting people and racking up millions of dollars in damages doesn’t net you very many gold medals in real life, but as consoles get more and more powerful, the destructive possibilities continue to expand. Give us the chance to enact our wildest car crash fantasies before we go crazy in this bumper-to-bumper traffic of the real world.
Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, that great cinematic cam is so buried that many players may not even realize it exists. Basically, while driving a vehicle, players can hold a button that automatically starts switching camera angles for a more cinematic view of the action. If toggled on, the mode can even be presented in slow-motion.
One of the more common complaints with Rockstar’s series is that sometimes driving can get a little old. Obviously, there’s the fast-travel system in place, but occasionally you’re forced to drive long distances to reach obscure objectives.
That’s why the option of adding a cinematic cam is so necessary. Suddenly, these long trips become legitimately cool and interesting. No longer are players forced to stare at the back of Trevor’s balding head for hours on end. They can truly marvel in the beauty of San Andreas while still making progress towards objectives. And when that gets old, toggle on the slow-motion and run over civilians or go off sick jumps. Now all of your accomplishments—both the impressive and the despicable—can be enjoyed to the full extent of their depravity. How many open-world games would benefit from this additional distraction? All of them.
Admittedly, Shadow of Mordor isn’t a particularly old game, but it did come out in 2014 which is ages in videogame years. Heck, the sequel is expected to release here in a just a few months. That’s why it’s so crazy that we haven’t seen any other instances of Mordor’s “Nemesis System.”
The basic concept is that special enemies players encounter and fight will retain “memories” of your encounter. If you injured them with fire, they’ll have a horrible burn across their face and become highly afraid of flaming arrows. If they succeed in killing you, they’ll be promoted and become more powerful, bragging to all the other orcs about how they slew the great shadow. Constantly these “nemeses” adapt to players’ play style, and a natural, fluid story develops within the game. You begin to feel like you have a connection to these randomly-generated characters.
Virtually every game in existence forces players to respawn at some point. How awesome would it be if other games chose to have enemies and other NPC actually remember the player’s exploits rather than just hard reset every time a player accidentally steps off a cliff or eats a poison mushroom? It’d go a long way towards creating a believable, memorable world that actually requires less writing on the part of the developers. Everybody wins. Except that orc you’ve set on fire, shot with arrows and fed to wolves, I guess.
Jordan Breeding is a current Paste intern who also writes for Cracked and the esteemed Twitter.