0000.01.01.1970 - The Ultra Shortcut
>I'm thinking about a video I watched a month or two ago.
In "The History of the Ultra Shortcut," Summoning Salt lays out a mechanic that players discovered and exploited to drastically reduce their best times in MARIO KART WII. That's how it normally works in games, of course. You discover new mechanics, like a wall kick or a spin attack, that allow you to play the game more effienctly or reach new areas. Sometimes it takes hours, and sometimes it takes an entire community years; Would you believe it was only confirmed *this year* that you can escape Chuckya early by wiggling the control stick and/or mashing A in SUPER MARIO 64?
But still, those are a different kind of discovery. Even the edge case of SM64 is a case in which players were uncovering features that the designers had always intended adept players to notice. But nobody was supposed to notice this. A lot of time and effort went into hiding it.
Can MKW's checkpoints even be called a "mechanic"? The video does so matter-of-factly, but I sense the team that engineered them would disagree.
Why does it matter? Well, if they are "mechanics," then the questions practically come flooding through:
Does this make Backwards Long Jumping a mechanic? More tellingly, are surface normals a mechanic? What about Object Attribute Memory? Is that a mechanic, too?
The last two seem like a real stretch, but they're both factors that have to be factored into high-level play and managed like physics and item effects are managed by a novice. Where does that leave us?
I never particularly liked the term "mechanics," or at least I haven't liked it since high school. I've mentioned my gripes with it elsewhere, but I want to add here that it fosters a tendency to think about a videogame's underlying systems with a level of abstraction that falls apart as soon you have to translate those absrtactions into something a computer can understand. Videogames are artifacts of computers before all else, and unless your game directly concerns math, you're bound to leave artifacts of your own in your wake.
So what do we do with these? When we talk about what makes a game tick, do we talk about jumping or gravity and trajectory? Do we talk about either of them depending on which is more relevant to a given conversation, but acknowledge the levels of abstraction involved? Not even computer scientists explain everything in terms of the flow of electrons.
I can't pretend to be able to answer this question on the spot, but it sure is fun to ask. Anyway, if you're one of the first people to visit my site, this is a good part of what you're in for. I hope that's okay. <1318.104.22.1688