My Top Ten: Game Conventions

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  • Number of Lives – This is a hang up from the arcade days. Publishers couldn’t have you slipping your 10p into an arcade machine and then sitting on it all day (thus not getting anyone else’s 10p). They gave you three goes for your money. Like the three balls you got to hurl at those coconuts they glue to sticks at the fair.
  • Continues – Another hang-up from the arcade days. You’ve run out of lives, oh no! All is lost. You can’t be bothered working your way all the way up to level 8 again so your coins are staying safely in your pocket. But wait! What’s this? Give us another of your shiny coins and we’ll give you another three lives and let you restart from the level you died on.
  • Hunter/Hunted – slightly less obvious but it has been in video games since Pac Man. You know the way it works: there’s an enemy you can only run from, they’re unbeatable. Any contact will result in your untimely death. Until you grab the big pill (or rocket launcher if you prefer modern analogies) and then you can go back and slay that formerly-indestructible foe!
  • Item Collection – Alright so you’re good at a game, you’ve beat it. You know how to beat it again. So you probably don’t want to keep playing, right? Well, how about if we tell you that you haven’t actually beaten the game until you have collected 100% of the collectibles. We’ve even hidden some collectibles that don’t actually benefit you in any way; they’re just things for collecting. So we can make you play for longer. Keep playing.
  • High Scores – You know when you put money in an arcade machine? Well, you’re not just paying to play a game. Oh no, you’re buying into a competition. In order to make their games as “sticky” as possible, developers added this mechanic to make their games have a competitive edge. The purpose was no longer to beat the game with no continues. You had to finish at the top of the leader-board. I was a prolific arcade high-scorer, look out for me, my initials were AAA.
  • End of Level Boss – Nobody likes repeating the same set of tasks over and over. Game developers caught on to this quite early and gave us bosses to mix up the way a game plays and give us a sense of building up to something and winning a larger battle. That way we didn’t even seem to notice that as soon as that boss was dead we were right back into the same limited set of repetitive actions in the next level. We were always working towards that next boss though.
  • Storyline – I’m not totally sure when this got added into games. I certainly don’t remember there being any gripping narrative in Asteroids, Pac Man or Arkanoid. As gaming “grew up” developers thought we needed a reason to play them. So they told us that we were saving the world. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve saved the world. In fact, I’ve even saved other people’s worlds from time to time and I don’t even live there!
  • Safe Zones – From the areas in Space Invaders where you got cover from the alien onslaught to the gargoyles in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Game developers have long-since added areas to their games that we can duck into for a bit of respite from the hectic world-saving. Handy if you need to scratch your nose.
  • Infinite Ammo – Quite often you only get it on your most basic weapon but from a developer’s point of view it makes perfect sense. You get a weapon that doesn’t run out so you always have something to throw at the enemies and the developer has one less thing to count. Win-win.
  • Multiplayer – From the earliest days of video gaming we’ve had multiplayer. Pong, Bomberman, Street Fighter, FIFA, Call of Duty 4. What would these games be without that moment when one developer turned to another and said “fancy a game of this… together?”
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