A game that I love is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is a 2017 Nintendo video game played on the Nintendo Switch. In this action-adventure game, the user controls the protagonist, Link, as he journeys through an expansive open-world map of diverse locations, solving puzzles and fighting monsters along the way. As a die-hard fan of the Zelda video game series, this was the fifth complete Zelda game I’ve started playing (and also one of my favorite!).
One set of mechanisms that create a fun dynamic to me is how much freedom and movement the user is allotted. The game has been lauded as boundary-breaking, and was designed to be completely open-world. Link can interact with essentially any object, substance, or physical environment in a unique and appropriate way (i.e. he can chop down grass, shoot down animals, ride wild horses, collect plants, climb up vines, cook his collected ingredients to create a wide range of possible dishes, etc.). He can also talk to other characters in the game and change the direction of the story based on his conversations. The countless number of combinations of actions the user can take enables there to be no rigid storyline like most traditional action-adventure video games. This means the user can advance along the game in a seemingly unlimited variety of different ways or discover things through experimentation. This set of mechanisms creates a dynamic that is very open, free, natural, nonlinear, and conducive to nearly unconstrained exploration.
Another set of mechanisms that I appreciate is those that add the pressure of time and physical awareness in the game – specifically the metrics that pertain to Link’s health. If Link wanders into a location that is too hot or cold (and he hasn’t obtained the necessary protective tool or body armour yet) he loses health if he stays for too long. If the user makes Link sprint for too long, Link runs out of stamina and must come to a near full stop to recuperate. If Link is attacked by monsters, he loses health. In order to revive himself, Link must cook and eat or sleep. These mechanisms that control Link’s health (and thus the user’s place in the game) are constraints that add a dynamic of realism and the urgency of survival to the game.
All in all, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is still considered groundbreaking by today’s standards in terms of open-world game design. It’s been dubbed “very possibly the best video game ever made,” and has received full marks by many notable video game review websites. It’s very interesting to see how the small mechanisms of the game add up to create novel dynamics and user experiences!