Designer Talk: One Refined Mechanic (Aaru’s Awakening)

Today I’m going to talk about a game that I doubt a lot of you have heard of. I know that sounds really pretentious but this game unfortunately has not yet achieved its deserved level of commercial success, despite having some truly incredible examples of today’s Designer Talk subject. One refined mechanic can shape a game and truly give it quality.

Aaru's Awakening

This is a concept that can be most easily applied to action platformers and puzzle games. So the game I’m talking about today, titled Aaru’s Awakening, incorporates one of the most interesting mechanics I’ve seen in a game. Well to be fair, it’s awfully similar to Portal, but given a combination of good setting and style, this game utilizes a teleportation system that gives you full reign of the map.

In order to teleport Aaru fires an orb with one button, then launches to the location of that orb with the same button. I don’t know how intuitive I feel the controls are, but again, this isn’t a review. I want to discuss the factors that make teleporting work in this context. And why this specific form of teleportation is the only way it could possibly be done.

The use of the orb means that Aaru’s position is always important. Meaning you can’t teleport anywhere exactly. Everywhere you go, has to be relative to Aaru’s position. So you can’t use teleportation as a crutch to skip movement. It’s still important to keep moving and to be conscious.

Another very important aspect is that teleportation takes time to do. It takes time to fire the orb, observe where it’s going and teleport to it while avoiding hazards that will kill you on impact. So your position is important, but the positions of other things in the area is equally if not more important. So teleportation requires that you are very attentive before you fire the orb. Which in the beginning of the game, isn’t too hard to do. Most platforms aren’t moving, and one’s that are moving move slow, so you have plenty of time to react. And the checkpoint system makes each session operate in short bursts, so you’re able to learn from your mistakes as you go.

Once the obstacles start piling on, you really need control over the mechanics to progress.

Once the obstacles start piling on, you really need control over the mechanics to progress.

As you reach later points of the game, the ground collapses, there are toxic bubbles everywhere, enemies are far more aggressive. Your controls have stayed the same, and you haven’t unlocked any new skills, abilities or otherwise. This is a game where the only thing that stays stagnant, is the character you control. Why does this matter?

Unless you’re shooting for something completely narrative driven, every game should be built around its mechanics. Not aesthetic, not story, but mechanics. The world adapts to this particular control to make things more difficult. It’s the idea of accumulation, which I’m going to go over more in depth in another Designer Talk. Aaru’s Awakening is all about adapting to your environment, and you’re given the perfect playground to do just that. You learn enemies, their patterns, the world, different terrain. Shockingly, despite its beauty, the aesthetic is the only aspect of Aaru’s Awakening that hinders its mechanics.

Too many things look similar. Friend or foe, aspects of the environment blend into each other in a way that isn’t cohesive for a reflex based puzzle platformer. Enemies fire beams of light that look too much like your teleportation orb, and adds a lot of confusion to the screen. Even if that was intentional, it hinders this refined mechanic and prevents it from shining through to its full potential.

So why is it important to have one refined mechanic? Simply put, it isn’t. Every game doesn’t have to be built around one concept. Look at The Last Of Us. That game has a bunch of different mechanics working cohesively from its “hearing system” for stealth to the ability to craft with materials. But a game that does have that level of focus on one mechanic can truly refine it. And refined gameplay is fun gameplay. Focus, scope, and refinement make games like Aaru’s Awakening a pretty awesome game to play.

 

Phew! Another Designer Talk: By Mustapha. I apologize for the drought of content this week, but I assure you that will change in the coming days. I have a few things in the works to make this week a great one. So for more Designer Talk and games like Aaru’s Awakening, come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!

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