Critpoints Glossary

After some thought, I’ve decided to make a glossary to help people who might not understand some of the terms I use. Some of these are terms I’ve made up myself, those will be noted as such. Rather than being ordered alphabetically like a conventional glossary, I’m ordering this so related terms are closer together, and you can get an idea of a topic from the terms close together.

I’m going to borrow from Critical Gaming’s glossary a little as well as general terminology that is sitting out there. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just things that might be a bit out of the way for the common gamer (though I might have gone overboard and included a bunch of obvious entries too). These are the terms you might not know, but probably need to know in order to understand this blog or my writing in general.

Rather than strictly being dictionary style definitions, many entries will likely include a bit of added explanation. All frame timings assume 60fps unless otherwise mentioned.

Companion glossaries might include:

http://critical-gaming.com/critical-glossary/
http://whatgamesare.com/glossary.html
http://shoryuken.com/glossary/
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_fighting_games
http://shmups.system11.org/viewtopic.php?p=1083937#p1083937
http://www.sega-16.com/2005/04/unofficial-shmups-glossary/
http://www.rakrent.com/rtsc/rtsc_glossary.htm
http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/Definitions
http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft2/Definitions

2D Topdown
3D Beat-em-up / 3D Action / Brawler / Stylish Action Game / Character Action Game / Cuhrayzee Game
AAA
APM / Actions-Per-Minute
Absolute Depth/ Potential Depth
Abstract Mechanic / Abstract Game
Accessibility
Action Puzzle
Advanced Technique / Trick
Adventure Game
Aesthetic / Cosmetic
Affordance
Air Dash
Air Stall
Alpha Counter / Guard Cancel
Analog Control
Angular Movement
Animation / Character State
Anti-air
Arcade Stick
Arena Shooter / Classic Shooter / Arcade Shooter
Asymmetric Multiplayer
Attrition
Auto-Save
Balance
Bans
Beat ’em Up
Block String
Blockstun
Boss / Mini-Boss
Breadth
Buff
Buffer / Queue
Build Order
Bullet Spread / Cone of Fire
Camera Lock
Cancel / Interrupt
Cartesian Coordinate
Category (speedrun)
Charge Attack
Cheats / Cheating
Checkpoint / Save Point
Clash
Claw Grip
Collision Detection
Combo
Comeback Mechanic / Rubberbanding
Command Normal
Command Throw
Complexity
Control Stick / Analog Stick
Cooperative Multiplayer
Counter Hit / Stuff
Counter-Play
Crafting
Crossup
Cut-Scene
DPS
Damage Boost
Debuff
Depth
Design Space
Dialogue Tree
Digital Control
Digital/Analog Information
Dizzy
Dodge
Dominant Tactic / Optimal Strategy
Donkey Space
Double-Jump / Multi-Jump / Air Jump
Double-blind
Dpad
Dragon Punch/Shoryuken
Dynamic / Game Dynamic
Efficiency Race
Element
Emergence
Emergent Narrative
Engagement
Environmental Storytelling
Escort Mission
Execution Skill
Exploit
Exponential Cycles
Extrinsic Motivation
FPS (Frames Per Second) / Tickrate
Face Buttons
Feedback
Fighting Game
First Person Shooter
Flow
Fog of War
Footsies
Forward Kinematics
Frame / Tick / Step
Frame Advantage / Advantage Time
Frame Data
Frame Perfect
Frame Trap
Freemium / Free 2 Play
Fun
Fundamentals
Game
Game Feel / Kinaesthetics
Game State
Game Theory
Gameplay
Gamification
Gamism
Genre
Gimmicks
Glitch
Griefer
Grinding
Guard Break / Guard Crush / Shield Break
Hack & Slash
Hard Lock
Heuristic
Hidden Information
High-Level / Low-Level (Mechanics, Choices)
Hit Spark
Hitbox
Hitscan
Hitstop / Hitfreeze / Hitlag / Hitpause
Hitstun
Horseshoe Level Design / Level Design Loops
Hover
Hurtbox
Immersion
In-Game Time
Infinite
Input
Input Read Algorithm / Command
Input Redundancy
Intelligent Uncertainty
Interactive Cutscene / Straightjacket / Coffin
Interesting Choice
Intrinsic Motivation
Inverse Kinematics
Iron Sights / ADS
Kara-Cancel
Kingmaker
Lame Duck
Lock-on
Ludology
Ludonarrative Dissonance
MMO / Massively Multiplayer Online Game
Macro
Magic Circle / Contract
Magic Series / Chain Combo
Mashing
Mechanic
Meta-Game
Metroidvania
Micro
Mixed Solution
Mixup
Mod / ROM Hack
Narrative
Narrativism
Narratology
Negative Edge
Negative Feedback
Nerf
Neutral Game
New Game + / NG+
Noise Propagation
Non-Linear
Okizeme / Meaty
Open World
Option Select
Orthogonal Mechanics / Orthogonal Design
Out of Bounds
Parry
Path-finding / Pathing
Pay to Win
Perfect Information
Platformer
Poke
Polar Coordinate
Positive Feedback
Possibility Space / State Space
Priority
Procedural Generation
Projectile
Pushblock / Advancing Guard
Puzzle
Quick-Time Event / QTE
RNG / Random Number Generation
RPG / Role Playing Game
RTA (speedrun)
Racing Game
Reaction Time
Reactionary Blind Spot
Read / Yomi
Real-Time Strategy / Real-Time Tactics / Turn-Based Strategy / Turn-Based Tactics
Real-time
Recoil
Regenerating Health / Resetting Health
Relevant Depth
Replay / Demo
Resource
Reversal
Rhythm Game
Rock Paper Scissors
Rogue-like
Role-Play
Rule
Save Scumming
Save State
Segmented (speedrun)
Shallow
Shmup / Shoot ’em up
Shoulder Buttons
Simulated Space
Simulationism
Skill Ceiling
Skill Floor
Skip / Sequence Break
Slippery Slope
Soft Lock
Solved Game
Special
Speedrun
Spotting Algorithm / Detection
Stage Select / Level Select
Status Effect / Status Condition
Stealth Game
Strafe Jump / Bunnyhopping
Straferun / Vector Addition / Diagonal Speed Boost / Chebyshev Distance
Strafing
Super / Hyper / Ultimate
Super Armor / Hyper Armor
Suspension of Disbelief
TAS
Tactical Degeneracy / Degenerate
Tactical Shooter / Modern Military Shooter
Tank Controls
Tech / Recovery Roll / Air Tech
Third Person Shooter
Throw Tech / Throw Break
Trade / Trading Hits
Traversal
Trigger
Turn Based / Turns
Type Weakness / Type Effectiveness
Unblockable
Undizzy
Vector
Verb / Move / Ability
Vertical-Slice
Visual Novel
Whiff Punish
Z-Action / Verticality
Zero-Sum Game
Zoning
iFrames / Invincibility

Game

A system of rules that players agree to be bound by that players seek to produce favorable results from, against the inconsistent nature of outcomes in that system.

I think this definition is the only suitable one for games, including all the weird corner cases, and fundamentally summing up the nature of games. Weird corner cases not covered in conventional definitions might include games of chance (like slots, dice, because they have no challenge), Tetris and other score attack or time attack games (don’t have a definitive victory state, but people still pursue goals in them against challenges), persistent games like MMOs (don’t have definitive endings). Inconsistency is critical here because it covers both random chance and difficulty, both of which are inconsistent, but are treated in similar ways by the brain. This ties back to the evolutionary origin of Fun.

Excludes play interactions that don’t have the same fundamental nature of trying to produce a result from inconsistency (which can be through chance or challenge, or a mix of the two). Examples of things excluded include tea parties, playing doctor, undirected play with toys, role-playing as in a theater setting (though improv theater frequently makes use of games to aid and structure role-playing), amusement park rides, etc.

Gameplay

The act or nature of interacting with a Game. The interactive segment of a media work that includes a game. An active summary of a Game’s mechanics in action.

Magic Circle / Contract

The agreement to be bound by a game’s rules and pursue the goals or results favored by the game.

Magic Circle is a term coined in Homo Ludens, an early anthropological focused work on games written by Johan Huizinga. I prefer the term “contract” personally as it’s a bit more clear what it means in relation to the work. Games cannot exist without contracts, without players agreeing in some way to be bound by the rules of the game. Game software or the tools used in the playing of a game are not games by themselves, the game is the rules enforced by the player that they agree to.

Rule

From Google: “one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere.”

Element

Element is used in this glossary to represent the most generic class of objects possible within a game. Element can be used interchangeably to refer to a mechanic, verb, character, enemy, level design feature, option, weapon, or most other distinct constructs that can exist within a game.

Mechanic

A rule or set of rules that governs changes to the game state. Mechanics may be actions of an entity, and constraining or conditional rules. Mechanics generally refer to the generic form of an action or constraining/condition rule rather than specific instances or variations of it that may occur within a given game. Mechanics do not refer to larger patterns or systems of rules, but specific interactions within the system. Compare to the term “Mechanism”.

Jumping is an example of a mechanic, having several rules in the form of the initial jump velocity, gravity, and in some games, modulated jump height or fall speed based on input. These rules collectively form the jump mechanic.

Verb / Move / Ability

A term used in games writing circles to refer to specific actions of the player character that the player may enact directly through their inputs. A subcategory of mechanic. Some games writers use mechanic to mean verb, others use them as separate words.

Complexity

Complexity in game terms refers to a game that has many parts, many rules, and perhaps a large interconnection between those rules. In practical terms, the complexity of a game can be equated with its possibility space.

It’s not entirely fair to judge games by complexity alone, as in many cases more complex games do not produce more complex play, the way they are played may be actually very simple, as is the case with many RPGs. Some games may appear to be simple by comparison, having much fewer rules, but through the careful tuning and interaction of those rules, achieve a type of play that is more complex than a game that has more rules but less care about the way those rules create play. One example might be Dive Kick.

Depth

Depth is the number of non-redundant game states that are relevant to a player or group of players. Depth is the effective complexity of a game, the measure of complexity that actually makes a difference relative to players.

Since pure complexity is not a good judge of a game’s quality alone, depth exists as a term to find how complex a game is relative to the players. For example, an RPG may be very complex, due to having a lot of stats, moves, weapons and equipment on each individual character, but in practice the method of playing most RPGs is rather simple, just level up, buy the best equipment. The methods of playing the game don’t differ significantly as one levels up, most enemies are relatively similar to one another, the ways that they are defeated don’t require a lot of hard thought or decision-making with trade-offs. These various factors have redundancy to one another. Despite there being a lot of elements at work, many of them don’t significantly change the way the game is played or constitute tactical or strategic decisions. In Sid Meier terms, the choices are not interesting.

The explanation is that although the large complexity of these games creates a large possibility space, there’s a lot of different stats and combinations of moves and items possible, these states are redundant. They’re not very differentiated from one another. Despite the total state space being really big, the total number of differentiated states is actually low. The aim of game design is in part to emphasize and make relevant as many states as possible, while having them remain distinct from one another. This is the conversion of complexity into depth.

Possibility Space / State Space

Possibility Space, a term coined by Will Wright, refers to the absolute range of possible game states a game can produce, every single initial, final, and intermediary state a game can occupy. This is the raw expression of the complexity of a game in numerical form. To create depth, one must also create possibility space. The possibility space of a game is a hard limit on how deep a game can be.

Absolute Depth/ Potential Depth

All non-redundant game states before being pruned for relevancy. Different from possibility space in that it is not the full state space.

Useful for describing games in which there is a progression from less optimal to more optimal play, leaving low-level tactics by the wayside, such as speedruns or other score attack games. Absolute depth is a constant acknowledgement of all the non-redundant game states, so while something may not be relevant in high-level play, it still counts towards a game’s absolute depth.

Poor balancing tends to obscure parts of a game’s absolute depth, so a game might potentially be more deep than it currently is.

Relevant Depth

A sub-category of depth, pertaining to the non-redundant states that are relevant to a section of a playerbase, either because those are all the states they know how to access or all that are relevant at their level of skill. This is useful in the case of skills that provide a pure benefit to a player, like L-canceling in Smash Bros or Nero’s EX ACT/MAX ACT in DMC4, for noting that both states of successfully performing the action and unsuccessfully performing it exist, and therefore should be counted towards depth, but separating such from being counted as redundant.

Also useful for describing games in which there is tactical degeneracy at either a high-level or low-level of play, and describing the shift in depth over time as more is discovered about a game. A game might only become deep once you have all the mechanics mastered, and new discoveries about a game might bring older strategies back into circulation. A game lives through all its players, such that even if top players are only concerned with a small number of states, the path to get there might be interesting in of itself.

Absolute depth stays constant as a truth about the system, relevant depth is selections of the game’s absolute depth that shift with the playerbase.

Breadth

Not an actual quantifiable property of a game, but rather an implied property in the case of games that have a large number of mechanics or content that do not interact with each other, and do not have much complexity unto themselves, thereby not creating as much depth as would otherwise be possible. Usually used to say that despite a game having a lot of elements it is not deep, but rather broad. Ostensibly a game can be both broad and deep, but breadth is rarely brought up when a game is deep. Depth is the true metric, and breadth ostensibly creates more game states, making more depth, even if it fails to utilize the additional complexity brought in to create as much depth as it could.

Shallow

Antonym of Deep. A Game that is Shallow lacks Depth. Sometimes used in conjunction with Breadth, though a game can be shallow without being considered broad.

Interesting Choice

A term coined by Sid Meier. Used to refer to a choice where players will not make the same decision every time. Interesting choices are usually created by having tradeoffs between various options and the creation of situations where the optimal option is not clear.

In an interesting choice, no single option is clearly better than the other options, the options are not equally attractive, and the player must be able to make an informed choice. (Rollings & Morris 2000, p. 38.)

Balance

Can mean a number of things depending on context. Usually refers to the relative strength or effectiveness of a similar category of options. This can mean balance of large sets of elements that players select at the beginning of the game, such as characters, armies, loadouts, or decks of cards. It can also refer to the balance between options mid-game, such as the usefulness of one option over the others across the situations that occur in a game. Balance between options preserves depth. It’s possible to create balance by making options equally attractive, homogenizing elements, but this decreases depth by increasing the redundancy of elements.

Orthogonal Mechanics / Orthogonal Design

In game design parlance, orthogonal has come to refer to elements that do not directly overlap each other, each serving a unique role. The units in Chess can be said to be Orthogonal, because they each move differently from one another, and no two function alike, except for the queen, which overlaps with both the bishop and rook. Orthogonality is important to prevent redundancy or irrelevancy of elements.

Design Space

Design Space is an abstracted view of a game’s mechanics, goals, dynamics, and generally elements with the purpose of seeing where elements sit relative to each other, and where additional elements can exist relative to the current ones. From this perspective, elements are evaluated for overlap, dominance, orthogonality, imbalance, or potentially preventing new elements from being introduced. Elements that have a lot of interaction with all the other elements across a game have a large influence on the design space of the game, especially if they are directly connected to the objective. Ostensibly, design space is the game regarded in its “pure” theoretical form, and from that comes the actual interactions that take place in gameplay. A game can be remarked as exploring a particular design space, referring to design space generally as one out of a number of possible designs a game can have.

Dominant Tactic / Optimal Strategy

A dominant tactic is a specific method of resolving situations that is significantly better than the other tactics available in a game. This leads to tactical degeneracy. An optimal strategy is a general strategy or style of play that is more likely to win over others.

Tactical Degeneracy / Degenerate

Tactical Degeneracy is when one tactic (or a small group of tactics) is so prevalent that it/they overshadow(s) many other potential tactics that are possible within a given design space.

Skill Ceiling

The height, absolute limit, of what can be accomplished within a game. The maximum range across which a player’s skill can be expressed. Games with high skill ceilings have a lot of aspects to master. Depth aids in increasing the skill ceiling of a game.

Skill Floor

The minimum level of skill necessary for a player to proficiently play the game. Having a large number of elements necessary to develop skill in to play the game increases the skill floor. Less intuitive entry level mechanics also increases the skill floor. For example, Smash Bros is considered to have a low Skill Floor, where Street Fighter is considered to have a much higher one. Smash Bros accomplishes this by having less mechanics that need to be learned in order to play on a basic level, with less attacks available at any given time, not having any command inputs, and having all moves tied to directional inputs and being uniform across characters. By comparison, Divekick has an even lower skill floor, because it only has two buttons and even fewer modifiers on the functions of those buttons. Despite having a lower skill floor, Smash Bros Melee has a similar level of complexity and depth to Street Fighter. Smash Bros Melee accomplishes this by having low affordance mechanics that skilled players can take advantage of and the base mechanics each have a high level of complexity, allowing for a variety of applications and outcomes from a given move, despite the ease of execution.

Accessibility

Related to Skill Floor. Nebulous term without a precise definition, usually what developers cite before they butcher something.

Execution Skill

The skill involved in physically executing a maneuver or tactic that has been chosen. Can refer to timing, dexterity, strength, reactions, or other skills unrelated to decision-making or memorization. Frequently referred to as just Execution. At a low level, Smash Bros does not require much Execution, because moves are as simple as holding a direction and pressing a button. At a high level, it is frequently necessary to push sequences of buttons rapidly, demanding more Execution Skill.

Digital/Analog Information

This is a term I coined to refer to how some variables in games can be expressed as exact states of the objects in question versus others that allow for a more fuzzy range of interpretation. For example, in Castlevania 1 or Ninja Gaiden 1, damage knocks the character back in a set arc, deals a set amount of damage out of a set number of pips in a health bar. In Smash Bros, the force of knockback is proportional to the percentage on the character, the number of frames of hitstun is proportional to the amount of knockback, characters are knocked back differently in accordance with their unique gravity, and they can affect their trajectory of knockback across a range of up to 36 degrees.

Analog information tends to be subdivided on a range such that the smallest possible difference between two values is nearly insignificant and . For example, older games tended to use digital health bars where each hit taken would deal a precise unit from the health bar, where more modern games have health bars with no discernible subdivisions, so chunks can be taken out of them in any arbitrary proportion. Zelda and 3d Mario use digital health bars, where Metroid uses an analog health bar.

Digital information has the advantage of being easier to read, understand, and process. It is very clear. Analog information has the advantage of being easily scalable. Digital information typically has less redundancy due to being more discrete. Analog information typically represents more actual states at the cost of many of those states being redundant.

Digital Control

A control system that uses on/off switches to determine whether an input is held. For example: keyboard keys, buttons, Dpads, arcade sticks.

Analog Control

A control system that uses a device that captures a value across a range and applies it as a form of input. For example: mice (capture position and movement across the range of possible X/Y positions), pressure sensitive buttons or triggers (captures how far the button/trigger is held down), analog sticks (captures current X/Y position within a circle), touch screens (captures currently touched regions).

Rock Paper Scissors

One of the simplest multiplayer games. Also takes the form of the Shell game. All zero-sum multiplayer games with double blind interactions can be reduced to rock paper scissors on some level in some form. Meaning that if you and your opponent both make decisions at the same time that are hidden from one another and later decide who wins or loses a given exchange, it is a form of rock paper scissors. Rock Paper Scissors is typified by the presence of elements that counter one another.

Counter-Play

A style or dynamic of design based loosely on rock paper scissors. Counterplay is about ensuring that different elements or options have different counter elements or options. Good counterplay is about ensuring that every element has a counter, and that different elements counter one another based on the situation. A lack of counterplay is when a game can be reduced to a simple decision-tree and every situation has a clear optimal choice.

Efficiency Race

The other simplest multiplayer game, describing any game in which victory is decided purely by the efficiency of player decisions and/or actions. A simple example of this is a game where the winner is whoever can press a button the most within a given time limit. A more complex example of this is a racing game. A more abstract example is an MMO raid. Rock Paper Scissors and Efficiency Races can be combined together to create varying results, and most competitive multiplayer games are mixes of Rock Paper Scissors and Efficiency Races.

Solved Game

A solved game is a game whose outcome (win, lose, or draw) can be correctly predicted from any position, given that both players play perfectly. –Wikipedia

The solutions for such games consist of algorithms, or decision trees, that produce perfect play, resulting in either a win or draw for one player. Weakly solved games produce a win or draw for one player based on all possible moves by the opponent. Strongly solved games can produce perfect play for a player based on any possible position, regardless of the number of mistakes made by the player. Strongly solved games require a complete map of a game’s possibility space.

Only turn based perfect-information games can be strongly solved. Games with hidden information can at best have mixed solutions applied. This means that no real-time game can have a strong solution. And despite it being possible to solve games, humans may be incapable of memorizing the optimal strategy, such as is the case with Chess, Checkers, and Go. Tic Tac Toe is an example of a game that is easily solved. Larger possibility spaces, and in particular more depth, make games harder to solve.

Also used informally as a pejorative for simple games.

Mixed Solution

In games with hidden information, such as double blind games, it can be impossible from any given player’s perspective to play the perfect move each turn. A mixed solution weighs the options players should take in correlation to the pot odds of a given situation. Mixed solutions, rather than producing perfect play, produce the least exploitable pattern of play possible. A basic mixed solution is playing each option in Rock Paper Scissors randomly 33% of the time. If the options in RPS counted for more points, then the solution is to play them in proportion to the number of points they earn relative to each other. Without the assistance of Random Number Generators, humans cannot apply mixed solutions consistently. In real-time games, mixed solutions cannot be realistically applied.

Heuristic

Heuristics are methods of solving a problem that may not be optimal, but are good enough. Learning to play games is a process of heuristic building. Good games are designed in such a way that players can build and refine heuristics easily through good information feedback and clarity, but prevent players from working out perfect solutions to situations. This can be achieved through a number of methods, such as physical skill tests, random chance, system complexity, selectively hiding certain information, or intelligent uncertainty (reading a human opponent).

iFrames / Invincibility

iFrames refer to the span of time during which a character is invincible. Invincibility can take a number of forms, such as intangibility to attacks, being immune to specific forms of damage such as throws or strikes, having invincibility only localized to part of the body such as the legs or torso, or being tangible, but incapable of being damage (so hitstop will still occur, but otherwise the attack will continue uninterrupted). During iframes, character collision is generally still active with the environment and with enemy collision boxes, it simply does not register the effects of damage or hitstun. Invincibility or selective invincibility can help affect a move’s priority over another move, ensuring that one counters the other more effectively or frequently.

Super Armor / Hyper Armor

Super Armor refers to the ability of a character to take hits from enemies without being put into hitstun in games where that is normally the consequence of taking damage, while still taking damage from the attack. Super armor overrides the property of the incoming attack to deal hitstun, attacks that do not normally deal hitstun are not considered to have any relation to armor. Super armor can be a general property of a character, such as the poise property in Dark Souls. It can be localized to certain moves, which also happens in Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3, where some moves are harder to interrupt than others, having a higher poise value, or generating poise where normally a character would have none, in street fighter 4, focus attacks as well as a number of character specific attacks have armor. And Super Armor can be beaten by a variety of means: By dealing enough poise damage to an invisible poise meter in the Souls series, by hitting an opponent multiple times in Street Fighter or with a designated armor breaking move, and by dealing an attack over a certain knockback threshold in Super Smash Brothers. Hyper Armor refers to super armor that cannot be broken by any means.

Dragon Punch/Shoryuken

A quick move with an invincible startup time usually covering the first active frame and a long recovery. Notable because it is guaranteed to beat any other move if used at the same time, but is severely risky and punishable otherwise.

Super / Hyper / Ultimate

A powerful move that a character can perform once they’ve completely filled a specialized meter. Usually does a lot of damage and is invincible.

Special

In fighting games a special move is one that has an input command associated with it that produces a generally more powerful or versatile move, such as one that causes the character to move, emit projectiles, become invincible, or otherwise. Specials are typically character defining. Non-special moves are called Normals.

Command Normal

A normal attack that has a command associated with it, usually to act as a modifier for the button press, differentiating it from the normal move attached to that button.

Command Throw

A throw in a fighting game that does not use the typical throw button/command given to most characters and instead uses its own command. Command Throws usually have special properties, like out-prioritizing regular throws, and do more damage.

Resource

A value that can change and be used for a functional purpose by players or enemies. Limiting actions with a cost in resources is a way of creating balance between actions.

Horseshoe Level Design / Level Design Loops

A term used by John Romero and indirectly by Valve. Horseshoe level design can help players get a sense of the space they’re in relative to itself, as well as connect starting points of levels to end points, enabling shortcuts between areas and making levels have a higher potential for speedrun sequence breaks.

Emergence

Emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. – Wikipedia

Emergence is an important concept in games because game designers frequently create large possibility spaces, far larger than could be implemented manually, through the interaction of relatively few rules. Even though Tic Tac Toe only has a couple rules, 9 squares in a 3 x 3 grid, 2 players, player 1 places an X in a square, player 2 places an O in an unoccupied sqaure, alternate turns until someone lines up 3 in a row. These rules create a possibility space with 255,168 possible games (including mirrored and rotated games). Tic Tac Toe in the scheme of games isn’t very complex or deep. This indicates that to make a deep game, the number of states needs to be significantly higher than 255,168.

There are patterns in how states emerge from rules, by understanding these patterns and creating heuristics for identifying differentiated state creation, such as my 4 rules of thumb for depth, we can leverage emergence to create deeper games.

Claw Grip

A method of holding a controller where the thumb is placed on the right analog stick and the index finger is brought up to control the face buttons while the middle finger controls the triggers. Allows simultaneous access to face buttons and the analog stick at the price of being very uncomfortable. Grip can also be modified to allow access to multiple face buttons simultaneously with the index finger and thumb.

Vector

A quantity possessing both magnitude and direction, represented by an arrow the direction of which indicates the direction of the quantity and the length of which is proportional to the magnitude. – Dictionary.com

Important for games because most movement can be expressed as a vector, which is effectively a polar coordinate. Vector math allows for easy calculation of velocity in any direction. Converting the polar coordinate vectors back into cartesian coordinates then makes these usable by the game engine to calculate object and character positions. Vector math is one of the most basic and important forms of math for games.

Polar Coordinate

Positions in polar coordinate systems are defined by distance from an origin point at an angle. Polar coordinates are thus essentially the same as vectors, and are used in vector movement before being converted back to cartesian coordinates. Polar coordinates are limited in that all movement is relative to a central origin point, and the distance between two points is not the same as their coordinate difference.

Cartesian Coordinate

A Cartesian coordinate system is a coordinate system that specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances to the point from two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length. – Wikipedia

All points on a cartesian grid that are the same number of coordinates away are also the same distance away. This means that an object’s position can be described relative to any other’s regardless of the two object’s position relative to the origin point. The origin point can effectively be placed anywhere without a difference to the movement or placement of objects on the grid. This makes cartesian coordinate systems convenient for describing the position of objects in games.

It’s possible to run two sets of coordinates through arc tangent to find out the angle between them, and then do the pythagorean theorem to determine the distance between them, giving you a polar coordinate from cartesian coordinates. The reverse is possible by running a polar coordinate’s angle through sine and cosine for the Y and X axes respectively, then multiplying by the distance, giving you cartesian coordinates from a polar coordinate. So you can find out how fast something is moving and at what angle with the first algorithm, and determine how much an object moves on the X and Y axes from movement at an angle from the second algorithm.

Strafing

Movement while facing in the same direction relative to the world around you. Almost all FPS games feature strafing, those that don’t typically have tank controls.

Angular Movement? (opposite of strafing)

Movement where facing direction is determined by movement direction, following either your movement vector or controller input. The majority of third person games feature this style of motion.

Tank Controls

Movement where forward and backward motion function like strafing, and left and right inputs rotate the character so they will move forward and back in the new facing direction. Very few games feature this style of motion.

Affordance

The way in which an object’s design, visually, tactilely, or functionally, suggests its purpose or functionality. High affordance in game design is usually a goal for the major functions of the game, the primary mechanics to be operated. Low affordance can be used to add additional elements that are to be discovered through experimentation or to obscure information until later. Low affordance can sometimes feel unfair, and must be treated carefully. Low affordance can also help prevent players from using options that might spoil their experience, but still enable them for players who need them for convenience’s sake (such as cheat menus).

Game Feel / Kinaesthetics

Virtual sensation, the sensation received through the visual feedback of an object under the user’s direct real-time control in response to user inputs. Discussed in Steve Swink’s book Game Feel. This is not a sensation unique to games, or even software, it’s present in driving cars, web/GUI design, or remote control toys. Chris “Campster” Franklin later coined the term Kinaesthetics, derived from Kinaesthesia, as a replacement for the term game feel, because he thought it sounded more appropriate.

Narrativism

The view that games as a media work are a story-telling device, deriving value from games in of their ability to tell or create stories and impart meaning.

Simulationism

The view that games as a media work exist to create believable interactive worlds, deriving value from games in their ability to create coherent, detailed, and consistent worlds.

Gamism

The view that games as a media work exist to create systems of challenge, deriving value from games in their ability to draw out complex goal-oriented thought.

Gamification

Ostensibly a process by which tasks are made more interesting/entertaining through the use of game-like structures and reward systems in order to help motivate workers performing those tasks. Frequently make use of external rewards as those are the most easily implemented, and changing the structure of a task to make it more fulfilling or game-like inherently is difficult in comparison.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is a desire to perform an action because you enjoy the action itself. Intrinsic motivation is decreased when behaviors are directly and consistently rewarded. Intrinsic motivation increases when the reward schedule is randomized or difficult to predict.

http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/10/how-rewards-can-backfire-and-reduce-motivation.php

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is a desire to perform an action because you enjoy the rewards that action grants you. Extrinsic reward structures and schedules for tasks are easily implemented and thus are a frequent focus of gamification.

Extrinsic Rewards can reduce Intrinsic Motivation through the Overjustification Effect.

http://sirlingames.squarespace.com/blog/2012/8/22/addiction-diablo-3-and-portal-2.html

Exponential Cycles

A game dynamic in which resources increase at a rate that itself increases. Used frequently by RPGs to ensure that players need to move onto new areas with enemies that drop exponentially more experience and gold in order to level up to levels that require exponentially more experience points, making enemies from prior areas inefficient for leveling up. Can also be helpful for tipping games in which there is a balance of power that swings back and forth to a conclusion.

Also has a strong correlation with addiction. The brain naturally acclimates to consistent levels of reward and even linear increases. In exponential cycles, the rate of increase itself increases, making progress appear orders of magnitude greater than what was possible before. A number of “clicker” games have abused this to create systems entirely focused on these addictive reward structures.

Iron Sights / ADS

A mechanic in modern shooters that simulates the use of the sights on a weapon to aim accurately in real life. Given that games have a targeting reticule in the center of the screen already, this is largely redundant. Usually puts character into an alternate state where the gun’s view model is brought up closer to the camera to use the physical sights on the weapon, reducing the FOV and movement speed of the character in the process, while reducing the size of the cone of fire, or eliminating it completely in favor of just weapon recoil.

Bullet Spread / Cone of Fire

A characteristic of game weapons in shooters, particularly first and third person shooters is to randomly angle the bullets that come out of the weapon. This is a crude simulation of the real world tendencies of weapons to shake when recoiling from the force of firing the gun. It adds to the feeling of the weapon as dispensing projectiles with a lot of force. Firing randomly this way however causes an unpredictable spread of damage on targets, leading to them sometimes taking more or less damage despite perfect aim.

Recoil

A mechanic where when a gun is fired, the targeting reticule and the entire camera are moved upwards semi-randomly to simulate to way real guns push back on their operator when they are fired, usually in an upwards direction. Some games probabilistically control the recoil of the reticule to differentiate their weapons.

Hitscan

Hitscan is a term that is used mainly in first person shooters. A hitscan is a calculation performed by a game to find the point at which a given line intersects a game object, and is commonly used to determine whether a bullet or projectile hit a target after being fired from a weapon. – Wikipedia

Projectile

An object or particle emitted from a character or weapon that deals damage. Projectiles can move at different speeds or in different movement or acceleration patterns. This allows projectiles to possess different physical characteristics and fill different design roles. Projectiles are used in a great variety of games, from fireballs in mario, to fireballs in street fighter, to rockets in first person shooters. There are so many different ways to differentiate projectiles that it’s unlikely we’ll ever run out.

Regenerating Health / Resetting Health

A mechanic primarily found in first person shooter games or other games where damage is unavoidable and context across encounters isn’t very important. Regenerating health is when upon taking damage, health will begin to gradually refill after a short delay. This refill can vary in speed, but typically lasts only a few seconds. Regenerating health can also take the form of a shield placed on top of permanent health, which retains damage caused to it while the shield regenerates. Regenerating health can be helpful for games where combat is not the focus, such as puzzle games, and where players are expected to take unavoidable sustained damage, such as from enemies with hitscan weapons. Regenerating health removes context from a level, by making it so that a player’s overall efficiency across a level will not affect their ability to complete it, only whether they can survive each individual encounter. Regenerating health can also lead to repetitive cycles in gameplay of waiting for health to refill in a safe zone.

DPS

Damage Per Second, a measure of efficiency for a weapon’s output over time. Some weapons may do more damage per shot, or have a slower refire rate. DPS helps determine what a weapon’s efficiency is when you aggregate those two factors. Unless weapons or abilities have additional factors preventing them from firing all the time, DPS can become the only relevant statistic on a weapon.

Glitch

An unintended consequence of game mechanics or rules that results in new emergent behaviors, mechanics, or rules. These can occur in video games, card games, board games, and sports. Because Video Games frequently attempt to simulate or depict physical processes similar to what we see in reality, glitches can be more jarring to the viewer in these games than in others.

Unintended consequences of play are regular in game development, however some glitches can come to be accepted or praised by players, such as Dribbling in Basketball, Combos in Street Fighter, Skiing in Tribes, or Strafe Jumping in Quake. Some can even solve design problems, such as the Toggle Escape glitch in Dark Souls 1, which allowed players to escape stunlock.

It’s up to developers ultimately to decide whether a glitch is harmful or creates more interesting play than they originally intended. The vast majority of glitches will be problems that need to be worked out, however not all glitches need to be patched, especially if they are not easy to discover or execute.

Some developers, such as in the case of Combos in Street Fighter and Skiing in Tribes even elected to intentionally expand upon glitches and make them a part of future games in the franchise. Others invent new techniques that are similar in nature to glitches, such as Devil May Cry’s Jump Cancel technique.

Exploit

Use of an intended game mechanic in a way contrary to what the developer intended. For example, backwards walking while Z-targeting in Ocarina of Time is faster than other forms of movement and so can be used to travel move quickly. This was an intentional design decision, to allow Link to retreat from enemies more quickly while locked on, but used for an unintended purpose of quicker movement outside of combat scenarios.

Hitstop / Hitfreeze / Hitlag / Hitpause

A short stopping effect that temporarily pauses characters when one inflicts damage on the other with a melee attack, or between a damage-on-hit projectile and its target. This effect exists to help sell the impact of the blow by freezing the frame where the actual collision happens. Most commonly found in games where blows inflict hitstun on their targets. Projectiles that do not cause hitstun generally also do not cause hitstop. Excessive hitstop can slow down a game and feel unpleasant to players. Many games vary the duration of hitstop based on the strength of the attack, and some greatly emphasize it past the normal limit to help sell the effect of dealing large amounts of damage.

Some games like traditional fighting games and smash bros use the hitstop state for additional game mechanics. For example in traditional fighting games, a glitch originating in Street Fighter 2 made it so inputting special moves during hitstop caused the first move to cancel into the next one. Later fighting games have made this into a core mechanic, so naturally the duration of hitstop is usually the duration of the cancel window in these. In Smash Bros, characters vibrate during hitstop, horizontally on the ground, and vertically in the air, and are allowed to move the character in small increments every frame their control stick moves into a new cardinal or ordinal direction. This allows one to move out of multi-hit attacks more easily, especially if the ending is a high knockback move, or force one’s self into the stage, allowing for a tech.

Hit Spark

An effect that usually accompanies hitstop. Hitsparks are particles generated when an attack successfully collides with a target. These help indicate the point of collision and the direction of knockback, as well as provide feedback and confirmation to the player that their attack connected and how powerful the attack is.

Buffer / Queue

A buffer is a log of information that is stored before it can be used. In game terms, a buffer usually refers to a log of inputs stored across a time period, such as logging directional inputs to determine if a whole directional motion, such as moving the control stick in a full circle, has been performed.

In fighting games, buffers are used to store directional and button inputs to determine whether they have been pressed in the correct sequence to produce a special or super move. Buffers are also used in many game to store inputs that have been pressed before a state occurs where they can be acted upon, then perform the action associated with that input at the first possible moment.

Most people referring to buffers in games are typically referring to the storing of inputs until they can be used. Buffer or buffering are used as verbs to describe situations where inputs are pressed during times where they cannot be performed so they will be performed at the next possible moment.

A trick possible in many games is “pause buffering”, pausing the game repeatedly so as to advance the game state frame by frame, then when the desired frame is reached, pressing the button for the action that is to be performed. Many games will buffer inputs performed as the pause screen is being dismissed, and mashing can make it possible to perform inputs frame perfectly from the pause screen in games that don’t.

Anti-air

An attack that is particularly good at dispatching aerial opponents from a grounded position. Can be like a type weakness for flying enemies versus grounded enemies.

Mixup

A scenario or tactic in which a player or enemy can perform two different actions that must be defended against two different ways, and the defending player must guess which way they need to defend.

Crossup

Attacking a player as you land behind them, switching what side you are on relative to them. In traditional fighting games, crossups are used to mix up opponents, by forcing them to block the opposite way they normally do. In Smash Bros, crossups are used to be safer when attacking opponents in shield, so as to avoid their shieldgrab that can only be used in front of them.

Read / Yomi

Making a decision based on what one expects their opponent to do. Reading your opponent’s mental state and predicting their future actions.

Contrary to expectations of a layman, players are capable of anticipating opponent actions. Humans are evolved to be able to understand and predict the actions of other humans. This isn’t very consistent however, as each person’s mental state is iterated more based on new information they receive over time, and it becomes increasingly harder to predict a person’s actions with total accuracy.

My personal theory is that this is related to Mirror Neurons, neurons that fire both when a person performs an action, and when they observe another person performing the same action. At least one study has suggested that mirror neurons fire in expectation of another person’s future actions at a rate with more accuracy than pure random chance, the results of which may be passed up to the conscious mind indirectly.

Naturally this same level of prediction isn’t extended to computers and random number generators, so in designing computer opponents that aren’t supposed to take the role of human players, one must factor in reaction time to provide a fair challenge.

Intelligent Uncertainty

A term coined by a real life friend. Refers to situations in which you may not be certain what action an opponent is taking, but you can make a probabilistic estimate based on what outside circumstances are affecting them, or what options are favored in their circumstance. Intelligent uncertainty is a circumstance created by factors in-game that weight different choices differently at different times, helping players make reads against each other. This circumstance works both ways, for aggressor, and defender, since the interaction is double blind. Does not refer to simple estimation of probabilities in all circumstances, only to working out an opponent’s action.

Donkey Space

A term coined by Frank Lantz. Donkey Space refers to the range of situations in which a player will deliberately make sub-optimal decisions in a mixed solution game in order to abuse and take advantage of their opponent who is also playing sub-optimally.

In a game with a mixed solution, the optimal solution will be to randomly select between a few different options in proportion to their payoffs. A perfect implementation of a mixed solution is theoretically the least abusable strategy possible in a game. Humans however cannot perfectly choose random options, and so will frequently fall into patterns. On a more basic level, a player that always plays rock in rock paper scissors is playing sub-optimally, but a player playing with the perfect mixed solution against them (randomly choosing between all 3 options 33% of the time) will still only win 1/3rd of the time. Deciding to change strategies to play paper every turn is suboptimal, but versus that particular opponent’s strategy of always playing rock, it wins significantly more.

Parry

A mechanic in which for a very small period of time a character is capable of catching incoming attacks, neutralizing the damage that would be dealt to them. This frequently gives them frame advantage versus the incoming attack, or other bonuses, like charging meters, health recovery, or bonus damage to their next attack. These mechanics are different from more normal counter attack mechanics in that they specifically need to be input very close to when the actual move strikes them (usually no more than 8 frames), and they typically have no specific associated counter attack animation that occurs automatically upon catching the opponent’s attack. Games that include parries are Street Fighter III 3rd strike, Garou Mark of the Wolves (Just Defend), Guilty Gear Accent Core (slashback), Guilty Gear Xrd (Blitz Shield), Street Fighter V (Ryu and Alex only), Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm.

Dodge

A mechanic in which a character becomes invincible for a limited period of time, usually with a vulnerable recovery phase at the end of the animation. Dodge animations frequently also move while the character is invincible, allowing them to not only phase through attacks but also move around them. In games where there are invincibility frames on dodge-like animations, dodging towards an attack, opposite its movement path, is frequently preferable to dodging away from it, along the same movement path, because there will be a smaller number of frames where the attack hitbox overlaps the character. Dodging away from it can frequently lead to being caught when the character becomes tangible again. However dodging away from it pre-emptively can frequently get one far away enough that the attack cannot reach them, so the dodge mechanic can serve both purposes for avoiding damage.

Whiff Punish

Hitting an opponent who has missed their attack (whiffed, a term from baseball). Frequently this means not just hitting them, but hitting their outstretched limb, which extends their hurtbox as they attempt to attack. This tactic can counter pokes, and is frequently called counter poking for that reason.

Counter Hit / Stuff

A counterhit, despite what the name may imply, is hitting an opponent during the startup or sometimes active frames of their attack. This is also called, “stuffing” their attack. Counterhits in some games are rewarded with additional damage or hitstun, allowing for bigger combos off counterhit. Frame traps tend to catch opponents with a counterhit. 3d fighting games sometimes make characters invincible to throws during the startup of attacks to guarantee that attacks beat throws.

Trade / Trading Hits

When two active hitboxes hit the entities throwing them at the same time, both players, or both player and enemy, will be damaged. This is called a trade. Sometimes it is advantageous to trade hits. Throwing out a stronger attack can make it so even though you don’t get offensive momentum, you still deal more damage than your opponent deals to you. Super Armor or the ability to cancel hitstun can allow one to intentionally trade and continue to attack. In games without hitstun, almost all attacks end up being trades, creating games about DPS and Attrition. Making a character invincible on the active frames of their attack will make it impossible for that attack to trade. Street Fighter III 3rd Strike and Street Fighter V situationally make characters invincible if there is a trade between weaker and stronger attacks.

Hitbox

An invisible shape attached to the graphics of characters, environments, and objects, used to determine whether it is overlapping with any other characters, environments, or objects. Hitboxes can be a variety of shapes, including squares, circles, cubes, spheres, spheroids, or arbitrary shapes. 3D or vector 2D hitboxes must always be convex, though multiple hitboxes can be used to form concave objects.

Many games use overlapping hitboxes of different types for different sorts of collision, like attack hitboxes, hurtboxes, and character environmental collision boxes (sometimes called pushboxes).

Hurtbox

A type of hitbox attached to a character that detects if they are being hit. These are the damage receptors for the character. Typically are more accurate to the character’s shape than stage collision boxes because hitboxes used for stage collisions or objects pushing on each other usually need to be kept simple consistent shapes or weird things happen, and merely detecting where damage occurs can afford to be more fine.

Collision Detection

Used to determine if two shapes are overlapping one another. Collision detection can take many forms and use many different algorithms, such as pure mathematical algorithms and checking if individual pixels overlap.

http://www.metanetsoftware.com/technique/tutorialA.html
http://www.metanetsoftware.com/technique/tutorialB.html

Damage Boost

Intentionally taking damage in order to abuse the knockback or mercy invincibility caused by that damage to propel one’s self or get around obstacles. One example of this is rocket jumping. Popular trick in classic castlevania games, and super metroid for going faster.

Advanced Technique / Trick

A specific sequence of inputs or moves that enables a certain outcome not otherwise possible. These are typically harder to perform than normal moves, and may be lower affordance. Advanced techniques give players that have mastered the basic techniques new avenues to improve in, keeping players engaged with a game longer. Depending on the execution skill requirements of a move, it may effect how useful the move actually is, even if the move itself is really powerful.

Speedrun

A form of competition in which a player seeks to accomplish a stated goal within a video game (usually reaching the credits or another final screen) within the shortest amount of time possible. Speedruns by default are agnostic about the stated intent of a game’s design, only recognizing the goal of the game, banning the use of cheat codes, or external modification of the game. Additional arbitrations on how a game is to be speedrun are implemented communally in the form of “categories”.

TAS

Short for Tool Assisted Speedrun or Tool Assisted Superplay. The tools in question are usually emulator functions, but occasionally programmable controllers or specific debug functions. These tools include save states, frame advance, and the ability to write or record inputs on a per-frame basis. These tools allow TASers to build sequences of inputs that if played out, will perform a precise series of actions ingame. Because TASers are not performing these inputs manually, they can bypass normal limitations to human execution skill or reaction time, allowing for demonstrations beyond human capability.

Speedruns done in this format typically attempt to exhibit the fastest theoretically possible way to reach the credits sequence with a predefined series of inputs in a deterministic environment. They are timed from the moment the console powers on, or the game application is started until the last input for the greatest degree of accuracy and least ambiguity in timing them.

TAS can help demonstrate what advanced techniques are possible within a game, or the efficacy of perfect play. Because of the ability to perfectly test scenarios in a frame-perfect systemic fashion TAS can be used to unearth new information about how the game works and inform the techniques and strategies of real players. It’s a useful tool in the absence of more conventionally provided data.

Skip / Sequence Break

Games typically enforce an order in which they are to be progressed through. Skips or sequence breaks bypass the intended order, allowing access to areas out of order, or avoiding certain requirements to complete the game. Skipping content is usually faster than completing it more quickly. Skips can frequently be more skill intensive than playing a game the standard way, especially because games are typically designed to resist skipping. Skips can involve a level of system mastery and understanding beyond normal play of the game, and are frequently discovered by putting together knowledge of different game systems, and applying them in new places.

RTA (speedrun)

Short for Real Time Attack. In this speedrun format, runners race against a clock that does not pause until the game is finished. This format can be useful for games that are not typically played in continuous segments, such as with frequent save state use, or games where the actual game is quit out of or reset mid-run. The drawback of this format is that load times are not always consistent between devices or even runs on the same device, so an element of random chance can affect the final time.

Timing using In-Game Time or IGT typically gets around these limitations provided the game has a good in-game clock, or one can be developed externally to the game. Good in-game clocks for speedrunning typically exclude load times and some system menus. May not be appropriate for games with save states where in-game times are not continuous. Sometimes leads to the drawback of a game having tricks that take longer in real time to execute but save in-game time. One example is quitting out to a title screen to speed up in-game animations that are logged as finished from the moment they are started, and appear finished on reloading from the title screen, or abuses of the pause screen where it affects in-game objects, but not the in-game timer.

Segmented (speedrun)

A speedrun format in which players split up the run into segments, at points where the game is loaded from a save state, or very carefully spliced from footage. In this format, runners have as many attempts as they like to record the best time for a segment they can. Then all the segments are stitched together. Segmented runs exist to demonstrate what a perfect run by human runners would look like. Because the standard for tricks goes up, it can frequently take long periods of time to produce.

Category (speedrun)

Categories are arbitrations on how a game is to be speedrun, setting certain parameters and limitations on runners in the pursuit of an alternate speedrun experience or bringing out certain values inherent in the game.

The default category for speedrunning is Any%, named for the Metroid series that displayed completion percentage at the end of stages. In the Any% category, there are no restrictions within the bounds of the game on what the runner is permitted to do. There are also time categories for speedruns that may apply in addition to Any%, such as RTA, in-game time, Single Segment, Segmented, or TAS.

The most common additional category is one that forbids certain specific identifiable tactics, strategies, or mechanics, such as going Out of Bounds, specific glitches, or skipping large segments of the game. These generally are aimed at preventing specific abuses that cut out large parts of the games, or emphasizing different skill sets.

Another common type of category is to complete a checklist of things, like 100%, All Dungeons, All Bosses, All Powerups, and so on. These are aimed at exploring as much of the game’s content as possible.

A less common variety is Glitchless, which attempts to arbitrate which specific identifiable uses of mechanics should be banned. Glitchless categories frequently allow the use of mechanics that fall in grey areas, such as mechanics that cannot be identified clearly as glitches or that cannot be easily identified whether a player is using them or not (like strafejumping/running) and the rulesets to these categories implicitly need to be updated as more glitches are discovered. Glitchless categories attempt to preserve the intent of the designers, and/or emphasize skill sets more core to the game’s intended experience, but are a pain to arbitrate as the definition of and criteria for glitch can vary widely from person to person.

Out of Bounds

Areas outside the walls or boundaries of the game’s play area. These areas are typically sparsely inhabited and so may link inbounds areas and objectives together more directly. They can also be dangerous to navigate, with the risk of falling into the void beneath levels, getting stuck on improperly formed geometry, or having no way back inbounds. It can also be difficult to navigate them as a lot of level geometry in these areas is frequently invisible, aimed at keeping players within the bounds of where they’re supposed to play, or simply left over.

Save State

A method of saving a game that allows for a game’s exact state to be saved at any moment and loaded to exactly that point at any other moment. This means players can arbitrarily create checkpoints to load back to at any point during play. Frequently players can also store multiple save states, allowing them to select between different points to load back to. This feature is most common in emulators and classic FPS games. Save state systems frequently lead to Save Scumming. Typically the best in user experience as they allow players to save whenever they want and quit the game at their leisure.

Checkpoint / Save Point

Check point systems save the game at specific points in time or space when the player reaches them and returns the player to these points when they die, or create save points that allow the creation of save states at that location/object. Some games featuring other save systems may feature checkpoint systems for progression through a level, using them to control where players restart when they die.

Auto-Save

A style of saving that occurs automatically at checkpoints, level transitions, or continuously. Players do not have the option to save or not save in systems like this. Depending on implementation, can be a user experience problem as they may not permit players to quit the game without losing progress.

Save Scumming

The practice of saving the game after every success, and reverting to a saved state after every failure. Save scumming can vastly decrease the difficulty of any game by only requiring the player to succeed at any given task once, without being required to develop actual consistency at the task through gating them with multiple challenges before being allowed to save again. Save State systems are most supportive of save scumming, and continuous auto-save systems are the least supportive of save scumming. Save scumming can make a game less enjoyable, as it becomes more repetitive over shorter periods of time. Save scumming can also allow one to make different choices and see the outcome of each choice, only committing to the choice they prefer.

Games that have a lot of small busy-work like collecting items, such as Thief, can be made more annoying if they don’t have save state systems however, because it’s a pain to reload from the level start and recollect all those items, however in thief’s case, those items are there to reinforce the central stealth challenge,

FPS (Frames Per Second) / Tickrate

FPS is the rate at which the screen refreshes during a game. The number of frames displayed every second. A higher frame count results in smoother visuals. Higher framecounts also mean the game responds to input slightly quicker, and interactions in the game are processed more evenly and smoothly, creating a greater consistency in collision detection, and allowing a more fine manipulation of the game relative to time. Most games run at 60Fps, though many run at 30 Fps.

Older games were coded such that the FPS was locked to a specific value, and the game was coded to have elements change, such as characters move, a set amount each frame. This means that lag in the game would affect the speed at which the game played in real-time, with each frame being displayed longer on screen.

Modern games, especially 3d games, are programmed with variable framerates, that will display each frame the fastest it can in order to get the highest FPS possible from the hardware. This is accomplished with a feature called Delta Time, a variable in the engine that records how long a frame is displayed on the screen. Multiplying the movement rates of objects by Delta Time causes them to scale with the length of the frame, so the timescale of the game in real-time is the same regardless of frame length. This also means that the FPS cap can be freely changed without requiring alterations to the game logic.

Some games have different behaviors at different framerates due to some events not being continuous over time, or neglecting to use delta time properly. Games that need to operate at a steady framerate, such as fighting games, frequently neglect to use alpha time to ensure perfect consistency in hitbox size across the proper durations. Older fighting games that implemented frameskip to speed up the game frequently had glitches that appeared to occur randomly, like random unblockables, due to skipping certain critical frames of animation.

Frame / Tick / Step

The smallest unit of real time possible in a game. 1 frame at 60 fps is 16.6666 milliseconds. Used as a unit of time measurement since it’s the same terms as the game system.

Frame Data

The information on how many frames a given move takes in order to reach its active state and recover afterwards, as well as timing information on other properties of the move.

Frame Perfect

Inputting an action on the first frame it is possible, or performing an action with a 1 frame window to be performed successfully. This is the hardest possible input in a system relative to time.

Cancel / Interrupt

Character animations in games function like a finite state machine. They occupy one state and transition to other states in response to player input, or an animation ending. Some animations, like attacks, are blocked from transitioning to another animation state until the animation completes. If it is possible to transition these animations to another one before they finish, then the animation is said to be canceled. There are a variety of cancels possible with a variety of effects at different points in animations. These can sometimes carry over variables or effects not related to the current animation state, such as speed gained during an animation, but normally lost at the end. Because cancels usually require particularly fast timing to interrupt an animation in the middle of it, they can be harder to perform than normal moves.

Combo

A series of attacks that keep a target in hitstun, incapable of performing actions, for its entire duration.

Block String

A series of attacks on a blocking target that either keep a target in blockstun (referred to as a true blockstring) or will frametrap their attempts to act out of block. May also include attempts to mix up the target’s block, getting around it.

Frame Trap

Hitting an opponent with a series of moves that leave such small gaps between them that if the opponent tries to act, they will get caught in the startup frames of their action by the next attack in the sequence.

Magic Series / Chain Combo

In a fighting game, a series of moves that are allowed to cancel into one another, keeping a target in hitstun continuously. One of the most famous Chains is the Hunter Series from Darkstalkers, LP, LK, MP, MK, HP, HK. Frequently these combo chains will allow characters to move from weaker to stronger moves in the chain, skipping moves inbetween. Others have more strict order.

In a Beat ‘Em Up game, a chain combo is a series of button presses that will produce a unique series of moves when input in the correct order and timing. The first moves in these series will always be the same unmodified moves. This means that the basic moves in chains must be performed first in order to get to the unique moves at the end.

Input

The means by which a player of a video game manipulates the state of a video game. This can be represented as which state all the buttons on the controller are across time. An input can also refer to a series of actions on a controller that produce a combined action.

Input Read Algorithm / Command

An algorithm that holds the inputs of the player in a buffer, examining them and what order/timing they were input in to determine whether they will trigger a specific action or not. Because it’s tricky to input directions quickly and accurately, input read algorithms frequently need leniencies to determine whether a slightly incorrect input should be interpreted as correct. One example is ignoring erroneous directional presses that are still close to the correct input, or allowing the move to activate both when the button corresponding to it is pressed and released.

Some games feature “long-cuts” for inputs that favor one possible interpretation over another similar input. Like Half Circle Forward inputs being a long-cut for Quarter Circle Forward inputs.

The exact nature of the input read algorithm in combination with buffer systems can very greatly alter the feel of inputs for moves in one game from another. Like King of Fighters is known for having a long buffer, but being exact about how moves are input, with a button hold buffer that makes timing moves easier, and Street Fighter is known for being so lenient as to promote sloppiness, and favoring players that mash the buttons for an input due to triggering specials on negative edge.

Feedback

Ways in which a game signals that input from the player has been received, the current game state, and the operation of its mechanics, through visuals, sound, and vibrations.

Feedback is critical from a user experience perspective and for making sure players understand the operation of the game. Feedback can help reinforce the properties of certain mechanics, such as the strength of some attacks relative to others, type weaknesses, and whether an action is having an effect at all. Superfluous feedback, such as bullet holes, different sounding footsteps based on surfaces, and sound effects, can help convey a bevy of information that might not immediately seem useful, but might have applications for some people. The overwhelming about of superfluous feedback in Ocarina of Time and Punchout and the very precise way in which their mechanics allow a player to input movements and actions are what make it possible for some players to complete the game blindfolded.

Mashing

Two techniques by which players rapidly press a button as fast as possible, or randomly press buttons, hoping to produce a favorable outcome.

The first technique of pressing a button quickly is to ensure that the button is pressed at the soonest possible interval when one is unsure when that interval will precisely arrive. A more precise version of this technique is called double tapping, where one attempts to time for the interval when they know roughly where it is, and only tap the button twice instead of mashing continuously.

The second technique is done by beginners who are not sure of all the inputs or effects of the inputs, and hope to find a series that will benefit them at random and replicate the types of motions that lead to that in order to win. The latter technique can also work sometimes because by not knowing what option they are selecting, they are also making it harder for their opponent to realize what option they are selecting. This is easily beaten however by simply performing actions that require a specific action at a specific timing to beat, such as throwing fireballs, or sweeping on wakeup.

Fundamentals

The base set of skills a game, series, or genre tests. Fundamentals generally refer to the base-level skills that have the most mile-age and are not specific to one game/one series/one aspect of a game. On a Genre level, fundamentals are the skills that are useful no matter what game in that genre you take them to. For example in First Person Shooters, fundamentals would include aiming and bodily awareness of your character’s movement from the first person perspective. In Fighting games fundamentals tend to be things like skill in the neutral game, general combo execution skill, and the ability to read opponents.

Gimmicks

The use of techniques that are obscure and may be difficult to defend against, but which cease to work once the proper defense is learned. Gimmicks are a contrast to mixups. Mixups remain difficult to defend against even once a proper defense is figured out. If there is a move with two (or more) potential followups after it, it is said to be “real” (a mixup) if those followups need to be defended against differently and respected and “not real” (a gimmick) if there is a response that beats all of the followups.

For example, in Street Fighter V, Karin has an overhead move called Ressenha that can be followed up into either a jumping grab that will grab standing opponents, or a low sweep that will sweep opponents who block high. Because both of these options can be beaten by blocking low then reactively punishing Karin’s option, it’s not a true mixup. During her V-trigger however she gains a new move called, Guren Ken, which has followups that hit high, low, and behind the opponent. These form a true mixup that need to be respected.

Frequently gimmicks can be repurposed into mixups. In Smash Bros Melee, one favorite gimmick of marth players is to run through their opponent while their opponent is in shield, then Fsmash them, hoping it will catch them when they jump out. Opponents can beat this by staying in shield. Alternatively Marth can crouch to cancel the run, then dash back and grab them from behind, a maneuver known as the tree grab. Now if they stay in shield, they are vulnerable to getting grabbed, and should get out of shield. So what was a gimmick becomes a mixup, between hit and grab, the opponent needs to accurately predict which.

Slippery Slope

When positive feedback is rewarded with more positive feedback or the potential to gain more positive feedback it creates a slippery slope. In games where a player that is losing also has less ability to fight back, such as RTS games where losing units also cuts your damage potential, this is the case. Slippery slopes can lead to games being decided very quickly before they actually end, leaving an extended endgame between the earlier decided winner and a lame duck player. A common solution to this is having the game end once one player gets a certain amount ahead rather than playing out the lame duck endgame.

Comeback Mechanic / Rubberbanding

A mechanic aimed to help out players that are disadvantaged. Essentially this is positive feedback or potential positive feedback in response to negative feedback. Sometimes comeback mechanics are implemented as a means of compensation against slippery slopes, such as X-Factor in Marvel vs Capcom 3.

Positive Feedback

Any mechanic that is activated during gameplay that makes it easier to win. Examples of positive feedback are healing the player character, damaging enemy characters, increasing damage potential, restoring resources, adding new abilities. Positive feedback in response to positive feedback creates a slippery slope. Positive feedback in response to negative feedback creates a comeback situation.

Negative Feedback

Any mechanic that is activated during gameplay that makes it harder to win. Examples of negative feedback are damaging the player character, healing enemy characters, decreasing damage potential, removing resources, locking abilities. Negative feedback in response to negative feedback creates a slippery slope. Negative feedback in response to positive feedback creates a comeback situation.

Kingmaker

A Kingmaker is a player/team in a game with 3 or more teams who is unable to win, but can decide the winner among the remaining players. Usually undesirable as it can reduce a game to interpersonal politics rather than skill with the game systems.

Lame Duck

A player who remains in a game, but cannot win. Lame Ducks frequently have an influence on the game and can play Kingmaker among the remaining players. It’s usually ideal to eliminate lame duck players once they’ve been determined as lame ducks to prevent kingmaker scenarios and drawn out endgames.

Reaction Time

The amount of time it takes for a player to notice and react to a situation. Average human reaction time for a specific stimulus that they have one specific prepared response to is 15 frames or 215 milliseconds. As players need to respond to more possible situations and make more complex judgements in response to something they react to, their speed of reaction decreases and it takes more time on average for them to react. at 15-18 frames, it’s impossible to make a judgement, or precisely time a response, only perform an action as soon as possible. As actions move outside the range of immediate reaction time into the 20-26 frame range it becomes more feasible to precisely time a response to the situation. Players can circumvent their reaction time by predicting that an action will happen in advance. Because it is possible to read human players, it is very feasible, and necessary to have players act within the sub-reaction time zone versus other players, but versus computer opponents, there need to be tells and other signals in advance for players to accurately predict or time their responses. Reaction time is shorter for hearing, and shortest for touch.

Reactionary Blind Spot

People cannot perceive things they see until it has passed into the range of reaction time, at roughly 215ms. This means that real-time actions below that range are double-blind. Single player games need to make sure that everything that happens takes enough time to avoid falling into this blind spot or has additional signaling enabling the player to avoid it outside this blind spot. Multiplayer rock paper scissors style competitive games must make sure that some interactions fall into this blind spot, or the rock paper scissors nature of the game will break. This is why many fighting games have most ground attacks be faster than 15 frames. Attacks with more startup than the reactionary blindspot can still take advantage of it if both players are attempting to attack close to simultaneously, as neither can see the point where the other’s attack begins, even if they can see the attack clearly after its started. This is common in Chivalry Medieval Warfare. Having attacks be easily punishable on reaction and having all attacks exist outside the reactionary blind spot makes a game very defensive. Moving into position before an attack can frequently serve as a tell for the attack, allowing one to act on prediction during the reactionary blind spot.

This blind spot grows and shrinks in relation to the type of reaction required. 215ms is the minimum average reaction time in optimal circumstances. It grows in relation to requiring a more complicated or more possible responses, or in having multiple possible situations that demand a reactive response. It shrinks as those factors are reduced and as players become more accustomed to the game and know the correct responses to reactive scenarios better. Sound has a smaller reactive blind spot than vision, but sounds can only be processed in one channel at a time, where vision can be processed in parallel. Having a combination of sight and sound is an aid to consistent reaction time.

Z-Action / Verticality

A term for level design that has emphasis on high ground versus low ground, the Z-axis. Use of the Z-axis allows areas of the level to overlap, creating more paths through a level than would be possible on a 2D plane.

Double-Jump / Multi-Jump / Air Jump

A jump that can be performed in the air. Double jumps can be of varying heights, and only permitted during certain phases of the jump, such as before you reach the apex of the jump. Double jumps are very flexible in their application, allowing one to correct air movement if one over or under shoots. They can be used to get higher or jump further depending on when they are deployed, and even go around overhangs or other mid-air obstacles.

Air Dash

An aerial move that allows one to accelerate forward in the air, moving faster and/or further during a jump. Most air dashes suspend the effect of gravity while they are being used.

Hover

A move that slows a character’s rate of descent, and usually alters their mid-air physics. Sometimes can inherit speed from momentum boosts that normally end when the move triggering the boost ends.

Air Stall

A move that allows a character to briefly slow their descent as they fall. Useful for mixing up descent times through the air, or moving further across a jump. Examples include the kick in Mario 64, many moves in smash bros such as dancing blade, shine, Mario’s cape, neutral air dodge, the spin in new super mario bros U and mario maker’s NSMB levels. Many hovers and smaller double jumps can be used as this.

Guard Break / Guard Crush / Shield Break

In some games, blocking has a cost to a guard meter or stamina, and when that is depleted, the guard will be broken, resulting in a state where you cannot block for a limited time, and usually take more damage or are left open to a combo. This is sometimes used as a replacement for a proper unblockable throw mechanic, such as in Dark Souls.

Unblockable

A move that cannot be guarded against.

Throws in most fighting games are unblockable short ranged attacks with the intent of giving players a counter to blocking that is beaten by most attacks. Throws are usually limited in most fighting games to only hitting grounded or aerial opponents. Moves that can hit air and grounded opponents as well as go through blocks in these fighting games are usually called unblockables, such as Faust’s Hack ‘n Slash move in Guilty Gear, or Ryu’s Dejin Hadouken in Street Fighter 3rd strike and Street Fighter V.

In many games it’s possible for special conditions to allow other moves to become unblockable. Such as hitting an opponent with two simultaneous attacks in their high and low block zone in most fighting games, or in front and back at the same time. In Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, blocking was calculated based on both the attacker and blocker’s angle, making it so attackers facing far away enough from their opponent have unblockable attacks. These unblockables were called Dead Angle Attacks.

Kara-Cancel

Kara is Japanese for “Empty.” A kara-cancel is an “empty-cancel”, referring to the canceling of a move before it even starts. In the Street Fighter series it has been possible to cancel normal attacks this way into special moves since Street Fighter 2. The benefit of canceling this way is that many normal moves have a bit of motion on their first frame, before they become active, so they can be kara-canceled to extend the range of other moves or for moving forward while attacking, which is useful for extending combos.

Kara-throws are a common use of kara-canceling, extending the range of a throw at the price that one cannot tech an incoming throw.

Kara-cancels in Street Fighter 3 and 4 are frame-perfect, requiring one to input the normal and special/throw on back to back frames. This means they can be useful as a point of comparison for other back to back frame-perfect techniques, such as pivoting in smash bros.

A variation of this is canceling through moves that either have a short animation or themselves can be canceled into nothing. Examples being the royal guard cancel in devil may cry, block cancel in God of War, Makoto’s Hayate cancel in street fighter, Kevin’s Kevin-cancel in Garou, Squiggly’s Seria cancel in Skullgirls, and Order Sol’s Drive charge stance cancel in Guilty Gear.

Negative Edge

A term originating from fighting games used to refer to an input generated by releasing a held button. In Street Fighter and other fighting games, doing the directional command for a special move and releasing a button can trigger the special move the same as pressing the button can. Some characters, like Zato-1 from Guilty Gear or Arakune from Blazblue, even have moves triggered exclusively by releasing buttons.

Alpha Counter / Guard Cancel

A mechanic allowing a player in blockstun to cancel blockstun into a specific attack that pushes their aggressor off them, sometimes dealing damage, sometimes not, frequently costing a resource of some type. Present in Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter V, Guilty Gear, Blazblue, Darkstalkers, Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

Pushblock / Advancing Guard

A mechanic allowing a player in blockstun to push their attacker further away, usually at the price of longer blockstun. Useful in games with blockstring infinites or excessively long blockstrings.

Option Select

A single series of inputs with a specific timing that can, in the right circumstance, be interpreted by the game to have multiple outcomes. A basic example is the special move cancel. You can throw out a cancel-able normal and buffer a special move input into it. If the normal connects, then it will cancel into the special move. If it doesn’t, then it will only perform the normal. Because the same set of inputs has different outcomes based on the scenario, it is an option select. Option selects frequently take advantage of cancel windows, differences in hit/block timings, and the way the system reads inputs. Other examples include throws versus close Cs and Ds in King of Fighters. If a throw (input as forward + C/D in KoF) misses then your close C or D is usually a fast normal attack that will do the job anyway. In Street Fighter 2, many characters have uppercut-like normals on their throw buttons that will hit even if their opponent jumps to evade the throw, such as E. Honda and Blanka’s MP. In Guilty Gear Xrd, it was possible in an earlier patch to mash roman cancel during a combo between 25 and 50% tension so that a Yellow Roman Cancel would be triggered the instant the opponent burst, allowing the attacker to cancel their combo, slow down time, and easily react to the burst, then punish it.

Option selects are generally considered bad design because of their tendency to cover multiple sets of options, not having as much risks as individual options, and being difficult to counter. It’s usually impossible to prevent all option selects, but generally efforts are taken to remove them where they crop up. Not all option selects are necessarily harmful to a game, individual ones need to be evaluated when discovered.

Option select does not refer to situations in which multiple options are covered by a single option, or by situations in which multiple options can be covered reactively by the attacking player in response to what their opponent does. It is commonly misused in these scenarios.

Poke

A reasonably fast, mid range move, the intent of which is to force opponents out of your range and usually prevent them from moving in for an anti-block move such as a throw. In the Street Fighter games, medium attacks typically take up this role.

Pokes have just the right balance of speed and range to set the tone for how far apart two characters can be. Some characters like Dhalsim have long limbs, allowing them to poke at much further distances than normal characters.

Clash

Some games have programmed their attacks such that if their hitboxes make contact at the same time, they will clash and both attacks will be canceled into a recoil state, neutralizing the attacks. Examples of this are Smash Bros, Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and Arcana Hearts. Arcana Hearts has special clash boxes that aid this system, making clashes a more reliable tactic. Many games have clash systems with projectiles that destroy projectiles coming in contact with certain melee or other projectile attacks.

Priority

Usually used in conjunction with clash systems to allow some attacks to beat others, usually more powerful attacks beating weaker ones, with attacks around the same strength producing clashes. In priority systems, hitboxes will only clash if they are of or close to the same priority, and if one is of a higher priority, the lower priority attack will cease to have an effect. For example, in smash bros, attacks will clash if they are within 8% of each other, but if the difference is greater than that, the stronger attack will invalidate the hitboxes of the weaker attack.

Priority systems are sometimes also achieved by granting invincibility to a certain class of attack during higher priority attacks, such as being immune to throws during attacks in Virtua Fighter.

More generally in fighting games the term priority is used abstractly to refer to a move’s general tendency to beat out other moves based on how quickly it comes out, its active time, the area it covers, and the area it leaves vulnerable. Most fighting games do not have a priority system at all, and resolve all interactions purely through timing and hitboxes.

Tech / Recovery Roll / Air Tech

A tech refers to a recovery from a hitstun state to a neutral state. The exact way techs work from game to game can vary greatly. Word originates from the way early capcom fighters would display “technical” for certain actions.

For example in Smash Bros, there are two types of techs, wall techs and ground techs. Wall techs allow characters who are in tumble or hitstun to cancel their current movement and return to a neutral state after playing a short animation connected to the wall. They can also optionally jump off the wall during this animation. Ground techs allow characters to recover quickly and invincibly instead of being knocked down and vulnerable, or roll in two directions as they get up.

In other fighting games such as the Marvel Versus Capcom games, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Guilty Gear, there are air techs, allowing characters that are juggled to do a small roll in the air, returning them to a neutral air state and potentially escaping further juggles.

Other fighting games like Darkstalkers, and Blazblue allow characters that are knocked down to roll in multiple directions before getting up, similar to ground techs in smash bros.

In these games, attacks that trigger a knockdown that cannot be teched are said to cause “hard knockdown”, as opposed to “soft knockdown” which does allow a tech.

Some action beat ’em up games allow teching as well, such as devil may cry which allows one to recover from an enemy’s attack by pressing the style button when in the trickster style. This is also present in Bayonetta and Nier.

Techs allow characters who are on the receiving end of attacks or combos to escape, and present a challenge to the attacker to either predict where their target will tech to, or react to the tech option. It can be a challenge on the part of the defender to determine when they should tech, where they should tech to, and whether they should tech at all.

Okizeme / Meaty

Okizeme refers to attacking a knocked down opponent on the first frame they are vulnerable. In this state they have no choice except to either respect your attack or attempt a reversal, potentially opening them up to more damage.

Meaty is often used as another term for okizeme, but also refers more specifically to hitting an opponent with the last active frame of an attack in order to get more frame advantage, which hitting someone as they get up is particularly good at doing.

Reversal

Acting with an invincible move the first frame out of knockdown or hitstun, such as to out-prioritize your opponent’s attempt to hit you on okizeme or continue their combo respectively. Examples of this are using an invincible dragon punch special, a super, or a teleport.

People who are not familiar with fighting games may think of this as a type of counter attack that absorbs an enemy attack, then hits them. A reversal is generally just acting the first frame out of hitstun or knockdown.

Throw Tech / Throw Break

When two throws are thrown at the same time or close to the same time, many games will resolve this by having both of them neutralized and playing a clash animation between the characters. This gives players a way to defend against throws, which in some games can be the fastest possible move in the game. Not having a throw tech window, even one as small as 1 or 2 frames, can lead to issues in determining who gets thrown when both players throw simultaneously. Some games resolve this randomly (Street Fighter 2) and others resolve this by port priority (Smash Bros).

In other games (KoF 98, Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, Virtua Fighter), the throw tech window is extended to even once a throw has already connected, giving the character caught by the throw a chance to escape. Frequently they need to break this throw using the correct button in correspondence to what type of throw the attacker used (in KoF 98, you have to guess if they used a C or D throw and use the same one to break it).

Infinite

A combo that can continue indefinitely with no means of escape. A pseudo-infinite is similar, except it can be escaped, or eventually fails to loop after some condition has been met. Infinites are typically design flaws, as they effectively win the round/match once started. Infinites can be interesting and avoid tactical degeneracy if they have a tricky setup to initiate (such as the double snapback in skullgirls), or are difficult to continuously loop (such as the RSF loops with El Fuerte in SF4). Some infinites do not deal damage, but can be used to stall until a time-out, allowing one to win if they ever take the lead. Even damage dealing infinites are occasionally used this way.

Hitstun

A state that may be inflicted on a character by an attack that stuns them, typically interrupting the action they were performing. Hitstun has the simultaneous benefits of allowing an attack that comes out first, (either because it was timed sooner, or is faster) to beat a slower attack, and preventing an opponent that you have hit from hitting you back. Hitting an opponent that is already in hitstun with another attack is called a combo.

Hitstun is what prevents combat from being entirely about trading hits, and thereby coming down to who can deal more DPS than the other combatant.

Blockstun

Like hitstun, a state that is inflicted on characters that block attacks, preventing them from acting. To guarantee fairness, anti-block maneuvers such as throws usually fail on characters that are put into blockstun (most traditional fighters) or the framedata is set up such that you cannot throw fast enough to catch someone in blockstun (smash bros). Blockstun exists to grant characters who attack people’s blocks a chance to pressure their opponent from an advantageous position, as well as prevent moves from being so minus on block that their opponent is granted a free combo every time.

Frame Advantage / Advantage Time

The number of frames between when an attack recovers and when the stun that attack dealt finishes. If an attack recovers sooner than the stun it inflicted ends, the attacker is said to be at frame advantage. If an attack recovers later than the stun it inflicted ends, the attacker is said to be at frame disadvantage. If they recover at the same time, the frame advantage is 0 or neutral.

Frame advantage determines who can act first after an attack is landed, which means the player at advantage has a higher chance of beating their opponent’s attack by getting to attack sooner. If the attacker has enough advantage time to land another attack, they can combo.

Being at frame disadvantage after hitting is called being “minus”, being at frame advantage is called being “plus”. In most fighting games, the amount you are minus or plus on block or hit is different and arbitrarily determined by the designer.

Being minus enough on hit to allow an opponent to get an attack out, unless it pushes the opponent so far away that they cannot connect their attack, is usually a fault in a game.

Dizzy

Dizzy is a special extended form of hitstun in fighting games that occurs when a target is dealt enough “stun” damage, an alternate damage type that fills up faster than HP damage, but which heals when the target is not taking damage.

Dizzy can help encourage aggression by providing additional rewards to players who attack frequently and don’t allow their target to recover. Dizzy gives players extra setup time for their combos and can help link combos together past the combo system’s normal limit.

The Dark Souls series uses this for many enemies and bosses, encouraging aggressive efficient play with bonus damage.

Undizzy

Undizzy is a way of players escaping combos when they have been dealt enough of an alternate undizzy damage type. Undizzy systems place limitations on combos, making it so players can only derive so much advantage from landing a combo. Skullgirls, Marvel Versus Capcom 2, and Killer Instinct (2013) use systems of this type to prevent their combo systems from creating combos that go on too long, because they have systems that would otherwise create infinite loops. Skullgirls and Killer Instinct have additional systems that inhibit the effect of the undizzy system to allow players to create longer combos in specific scenarios where the opponent is caught doing the wrong thing (counterhit in skullgirls, failed combo breakers in killer instinct).

High-Level / Low-Level (Mechanics, Choices)

A term I coined, taken from the concept of High-Level and Low-Level programming languages. The idea is that some High-Level mechanics are rather hands off, more about content presentation than the direct actions the player does to keep themselves alive, such as leveling up, procedural content generation, nonlinear level design, loadout selection, meter management, and so on. Other mechanics are more direct and are the base tools players use to defeat enemies and win or lose on a moment to moment basis. These can be separated in terms of the immediacy of their consequence. High Level Mechanics have far reaching consequences and are barred from directly determining a single interaction’s success. Low Level Mechanics have very short term consequences. A given interaction or mechanic may have both high level and low level consequences, simultaneously winning an exchange, but also building resources for the future.

I’ll admit the concept isn’t fully fleshed out, but something like it could stand to exist.

Macro

In RTS parlance, this term is used to refer to base building, unit construction, and tech upgrading.

Macro has the connotation of managing large numbers of units in bold sweeps. A game that is decided by macro is usually one where producing the largest number of units at the fastest continuous pace in the right compositions is more influential in winning the game than specifically instructing them.

Micro

In RTS parlance, this term is used to refer to management of individual units, particularly military units. Operations of combat units in general is frequently referred to as micro.

Micro also has the connotation of managing individual units during a fight to increase their efficiency in battle and specifically counter enemy tactics. A game that is decided by micro is usually one in which players that utilize their troops well succeed over players who simply focus on production.

Aesthetic / Cosmetic

Visual information attached to game systems. Aesthetics are necessary on some baseline level to convey the systems, as people cannot process raw numbers. While aesthetics are necessary to convey the game state, aesthetics can also obscure the game state, such as camouflage or lowering the opacity of an object. For most games, being able to parse the game state from the aesthetics and simulation of space is of the highest importance, but in some it can be a challenge in of itself, and have mechanics specially revolving around it. The aesthetic can also help influence understanding of the game system on a more conceptual level, such as color coding representations of elements to establish their function more clearly.

Narrative

Post-hoc information or accounts about events. Distinct from events themselves. Narrative information is distinct from system information, but the two may overlap and thereby coincide.

Emergent Narrative

A term used to describe the way in which games can result in series of events that are retold as stories post-hoc. Overlaps somewhat with possibility space. Ignores that the game doesn’t make the story, the players do after the events of the game happen. The term exists to attempt to describe gameplay in terms of narrative, as a reaction to descriptions of gameplay and story as separate things.

Environmental Storytelling

The art of putting skulls next to toilets.

Zoning

The strategy of using projectiles or other long ranged attacks to keep opponents at a distance where they cannot directly harm you.

Neutral Game

The phase of a game during which players do not have an advantage over one another in terms of available options, such as when a character may be knocked down, blocking a string, or taking a combo/setup (or offstage as in Smash Bros). Fighting games start off in the neutral game and are usually set up to return to this regularly at the end of a combo or other exchange. In the neutral game players may have positional advantages, or other established advantages to their resources, but typically have access to the majority of their options versus one another, without a significant disparity in their option set.

Footsies

A component of the neutral game where players attempt to move into a position that is favorable to them and unfavorable for their opponent based on what move they currently want to use.

Lock-on

A mechanic that forces a character, camera, or object to face in a particular direction or towards another character or object. This exists to make it easier to aim at moving targets, or targets in 3d space, as well as free up the thumb from the camera stick in games that use a controller. Lock-on buttons in 3d games also serve to center the camera behind the character in many cases.

Camera Lock

In 3D free camera games, Camera Lock sets a point as the focal point of the camera. A camera locked this way will always rotate to face the focal point, keeping it in view.

Hard Lock

Hard Lock is when a character can be manually toggled to face towards an object of focus regardless of distance and only aim attacks and actions relative to that object. Movement around the object usually becomes like movement across polar coordinates with the object as the origin point. When Hard Locked it is difficult to move around to the opposite side of the targeted object, as one rotates around it, rather than being able to move directly past it.

Hard Lock can be used to establish directionality relative to the target, so that directional inputs can be used in combination with button inputs to produce contextual actions, such as special attacks. Hard Lock is used in many games in combination with camera lock. Hard Lock and Camera Lock have a tendency of creating a one dimensional relationship between a character and their target.

Soft Lock

Soft Lock is when a character will automatically turn to face towards a target when within a certain distance of them and performing certain actions, like attacks or dodges. Soft Lock can make it easier to aim at a target while enabling free motion around the target, but does not have the benefits of hard lock in enabling directional controls.

Buff

Either a change made to a character/weapon/element in a new version of a game that makes it more desirable/effective, or a temporary bonus applied to a character by a move/ability.

Nerf

A change to a character/weapon/element in a new version of a game that makes it less desirable/effective.

Debuff

A temporary penalty applied to a character by a move/ability.

Status Effect / Status Condition

An ongoing state applied to a character that may have a range of effects, such as steadily reducing HP (poison), consuming resources (like stamina), restricting options (curse, petrification, sleep, or paralysis in many games), or other effects. Very similar to a Debuff.

Crafting

A mechanic that creates new items from existing ones according to a system of relationships between items. This can be applied to all sorts of items, including weapons, and even characters. Crafting allows for the repurposing of elements undesired by the player, and for elements to be put to multiple potential uses instead of a single fixed use.

Type Weakness / Type Effectiveness

A system in which different elements, such as characters, enemies, weapons, moves, or items, are assigned particular types. These types have interactions with the type weaknesses or types of other elements, such as water being weak to fire, or a character having a lower resistance to dark type damage. These can stress player knowledge skills and sometimes help prompt them to use different moves/weapons/elements than they normally would, or mix their team or loadout compositions to match the obstacles they expect to face. Type weaknesses are especially important in RTS games where mixing of units is expected and where it’s critical to attack opponents with units that counter theirs, taking the role of rock paper scissors in that environment.

Attrition

A play dynamic wherein victory is achieved through minimizing damage taken over time and maximizing damage applied to opponents and damage in some form is generally unavoidable. Most RPGs and RTS function through attrition. Many other genres, such as most action games and fighting games, are designed to allow players to avoid or negate attrition, enabling them to win in any circumstance. Modern FPS games are based on attrition, but implement regenerating health to automatically and regularly negate attrition.

Freemium / Free 2 Play

A game which is sold for free, but which has the option to purchase resources that help out in-game, or pay to avoid wait times. Freemium games attempt to lure in large audiences by being free and usually abusing addictive reward cycles in order to attract players who are willing to dump large amounts of money into the game, then alter the game to cater to those players once attracted. The large number of non-paying users are a loss leader for the few paying users that generate the bulk of the game’s revenue.

Pay to Win

A derogatory term applied to games that allow players to buy items or bonuses that help them win games in a multiplayer setting. Games that allow too much advantage to be purchased by players can become a case where the winner is the one with the deeper pockets. Some competitive games have had cases where competitive players all used the paid items or weapons to play because they were strictly better than the free ones. Frequent in Freemium games.

Straferun / Vector Addition / Diagonal Speed Boost / Chebyshev Distance

Straferunning is a bug that was created in the original Doom engine that has since propagated its way into a number of other classic FPS games, including Duke Nukem 3d, Thief 2, and Descent. Moving diagonally in these games produces a movement speed that is about √2 the original movement speed (about 41% faster). This is because diagonal movement in these games has the character move forward and strafe to the side at the same full speed as if they exclusively moved in those directions, which produces a net velocity in the diagonal direction that is faster than standard movement speed.

Some square grid based board games encounter this too and apply a movement penalty of half a square to units moving diagonally.

Strafe Jump / Bunnyhopping

A bug originating in the Quake engine that allows acceleration while in the air. Limitations on acceleration are calculated in a weird way in the quake engine such that it’s possible to bypass acceleration restrictions by continually moving the mouse in a smooth pattern. By smoothly whipping the mouse back and forth and alternating movement directions it’s possible to accelerate forwards. Jumping is done to minimize ground friction that might reduce speed, though the same effect certainly exists on the ground as well. This bug has since found its way into dozens of other games due to the proliferation of the idtech engine into the engine architectures of numerous other games. It was even independently recreated in the Crysis engine, existing in Crysis (in a more extreme version that allowed flight) and Crysis Warhead (in the standard version).

http://flafla2.github.io/2015/02/14/bunnyhop.html

http://todigra.org/index.php/todigra/article/view/35/95

Traversal

A general purpose word referring to the act of moving across a space in a game. Mechanics related to movement and efficiency of movement across level are called Traversal Mechanics generally, as opposed to movement mechanics in relation to their use in combat, which do not have a specific name. If a dodge move is useful outside of combat, such as to move across gaps, or move more quickly, it becomes a traversal mechanic in that context.

Replay / Demo

A recording of a player’s inputs that the game engine replays to simulate a prior event. Frequently smaller in filesize than video recordings of the same. Can desync relative to the original playthrough if something changes in the simulation.

Charge Attack

An attack that can be held before releasing. Charge attacks can take many forms, such as building in power while held, always dealing the same amount of damage, but having a long startup that can be held near the end, or being forcibly released if held too long. Some charge attacks allow you to cancel the hold period with another button press. Some even allow you to retain the charge and do other things while still holding it.

Charge attacks that have a long startup time before they can be activated generally need to be several times more powerful than regular attacks to justify the charge time.

Attacks that have long startups are frequently useless versus real players, but allowing them to be held before releasing can effectively shorten their startup in some situations, as the charging player only needs to release when something comes in range, rather than try to judge where something will be far in advance. In this way, the startup time is split into two parts.

In fighting games, charge attacks require a direction to be held for a certain duration before the move can even be performed. This holding frequently has no visual feedback, and can be performed during other actions.

Cheats / Cheating

Cheating is the act of violating the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage. In multiplayer games, cheaters or griefers do not agree to play by the same rules as their opponents and are technically no longer playing the same game as them. Cheaters, unlike griefers, attempt to be recognized as the winners of the game within the stated rules. Given that arbitration over games has become automated since the move to video games, it is frequently inferred or directly stated that the only form of cheating in video games is that which alters the normal operation of the software, such as memory injection, modification of the software, manipulation of save or configuration files, use of programmable controller inputs, or other such measures.

Griefer

Someone who, in a multiplayer setting, is not playing the same game as everyone else, and attempts to ruin the fun of normal players.

Bans

An agreement to remove an element from play that may be a part of the existing rules of the game or the embedded rules of the software used to play the game. Bans usually constitute a modification to the rules of the game on the part of a particular playerbase.

Bans can also be more limited to an individual play session to restrict the range of available elements in the pre-game selection of things such as maps, stages, equipment, and characters.

APM / Actions-Per-Minute

A term for the speed at which the player is inputting actions recognized by the system. Faster paced games typically have higher actions-per-minute.

Boss / Mini-Boss

An enemy of greater difficulty than the average that typically is placed at the end of a level and/or game. Bosses are frequently larger in stature than regular enemies and have more health. Ostensibly, bosses exist to test what the player has learned over the course of the level. In practice many bosses frequently are their own challenges, and may even be disconnected from the rest of the challenges and systems the game presents. Many bosses have specialized systems exclusive to them. Games almost always place checkpoints after bosses.

Mini-bosses are like bosses, except they typically appear in the middle of the stage, and disappear permanently unlike regular enemies, but don’t have checkpoints after them like major bosses.

The exact convention for bosses and mini-bosses varies from game to game, but they represent a spike in difficulty that help a game’s pacing.

Escort Mission

Refers to a level or sequence in which there is an AI controlled character with health that either accompanies you, or moves on a path to a destination. Allowing this character to die will fail the mission.

Cut-Scene

A sequence in which gameplay cuts to a movie that plays out before returning to gameplay. Cutscenes frequently have no affect on gameplay except at their beginning or end. Since players have no control during cutscenes except to pause or skip them frequently, events during cutscenes can be said to occur at the start and finish of the cutscene. If there is no change in game state across those, a cutscene can be said to have no effect.

Cutscenes can be useful for delivering information or forcing the camera to look at something it might not be looking at naturally.

Cutscenes can present a user experience problem in that they take away control from the user, much like operating a video editor where an autosave dialog removes control from the user regularly. Allowing players to skip cutscenes helps remove this issue.

Interactive Cutscene / Straightjacket / Coffin

A way of delivering narrative information without cutting to a non-interactive animation sequence. Instead, the player is locked inside a room where they retain control of their character, but are incapable of progressing until the NPCs that are talking finish their associated animations and dialogue. Huge user experience issue as these sequences cannot be skipped, especially if the user is prompted for action mid-cutscene, with the scene pausing until the action is provided, as that prevents users from leaving during the cutscene. Interactive cutscenes are most common in First Person Shooters after Half Life invented the idea and Half Life 2 popularized it.

Mod / ROM Hack

A mod is a modification of a game’s rules, or the devices used to play the game, such as the game software. Most frequently refers to modifications of game software.

AAA

Originating from credit ratings, AAA is meant to be a secure investment with a low rate of risk. The most likely investment to return dividends. Alternatively the name may be derived from school grade reports according to Wikipedia.

Used in the industry to refer to companies and games that have a high level of production value, big budgets, are widely advertised, and attempt to court the mass market.

Real-time

Time as it passes in reality. A game is real-time when the game state advances as time passes. Things such as pauses may suspend the game’s ability to advance in real-time.

In-Game Time

Time on the time-scale of the game. Pauses, freezes, slowdown, or drops in framerate may suspend or slow in-game time relative to real-time. For example, super flashes in fighting games occur in real-time, but not in-game time, so no actions in-game can occur during them (though the game will still read directional inputs during super flashes, and may even buffer buttons pressed during them, super flashes can count towards the charge time of charge moves).

Turn Based / Turns

A turn is a period of time during which a player is allowed to act. This period can be limited by real-time or end only when the player has decided on all the actions allotted to them for that turn. Turns can consist of sub-phases where actions are taken in order. Turns can be simultaneous cycles in which both players decide to take actions, resolve the results of those actions, and begin a new turn. In turn based games, the scale of in-game time is relative to the turns themselves.

Path-finding / Pathing

Pathfinding is a process by which AI controlled characters navigate through the environment. Pathfinding is necessary for characters and enemies to find their way around obstacles while moving towards a destination or another character/object. Most pathfinding algorithms work on a basis of dividing the map into nodes and calculating using a series of weighted algorithms which determine the fastest route by a process of trying every possible route and picking the most efficient one.

http://theory.stanford.edu/~amitp/GameProgramming/AStarComparison.html

Understanding pathfinding algorithms can be important for games that need to make extensive use of them, particularly in preventing the AI from trying to cross a path that is impassable.

Spotting Algorithm / Detection

A mechanic used in Stealth games, and a few others, for determining if a player is seen by an AI controlled enemy. These typically use vision cones extending from the enemy’s eyes and sometimes vision cones behind the enemy too. Occasionally raycasts back up these vision cones to determine if the player is actually visible, and not merely within the range of the viewcone. Determines based on a variety of factors such as the distance of vision, the lighting conditions, camouflage, or other circumstances whether the player is visible enough to enter an alert state and begin pursuing the player directly or an investigation state and move to the area they believe the player is in.

Noise Propagation

Another mechanic used in Stealth games. Noise propagation is a system by which actions of the player and other objects produce noise which nonplayer characters, enemies, or other players can take notice of. Sound can be dampened by the surface, the room, or by barriers in the way of the sound. It can also be amplified by these things.

Face Buttons

Digital buttons on the top side of a controller, usually within reach of the right thumb. Face buttons can be pressed simultaneously if they are parallel with the thumb. Face buttons are typically the most accessible buttons available in a game and are reserved for main functions. It can be difficult to press multiple face buttons simultaneously or in rapid succession, but face buttons can be pressed simultaneously with shoulder buttons. Face buttons typically conflict for the thumb’s attention with the right analog stick, used for controlling the camera in most games. The Claw Grip can be used to get around this limitation.

Shoulder Buttons

Digital buttons on the top side of the controller. These buttons are manipulated by the index fingers and sometimes middle fingers, and so do not compete with the face buttons, allowing both to be pressed simultaneously or in rapid succession. This means they also do not compete with the right stick for attention and can be operated simultaneously with the camera, which is likely why Dark Souls bound its attacks to the shoulder buttons.

Trigger

An analog input device that occupies the shoulder of a controller, a sub-set of shoulder buttons. Triggers resist being depressed, and output how far they are currently depressed to the game. Triggers can be used for mechanics which scale in accordance with how much the trigger is depressed, such as acceleration in a racing game.

The Nintendo gamecube had digital shoulder buttons positioned at the bottom of their triggers, allowing for a hard digital input beneath a smooth analog input. A few games made use of this, including Smash Bros Melee (variable density light shields) and Mario Sunshine (run while spraying water).

Control Stick / Analog Stick

An analog input device consisting of a small stick atop a ball joint box, rigged to resist moving the stick from the center position and return it there when without input. Analog sticks output the current position of the stick on a cartesian grid with the center of the stick as the origin point, this is converted to polar coordinates by most games that accept analog input to determine the angle and intensity of movement in a direction relative to the center of the stick.

3d games with camera control typically feel awkward if they lack an analog stick for 360 degree motion of the character, and usually also require a second analog stick, the combination referred to as Dual-Analog, in order to manipulate the camera. The stick that controls player character movement is typically called the control stick, while the other is unnamed or called the camera stick.

Dpad

A digital input device consisting of a + shaped plastic piece mounted atop a fulcrum at its center and 4 switches at each end of the +. This makes it so only 2 switches can be depressed at a time, allowing for 8 possible combinations of signals, corresponding to 8 directions of movement. This design was formerly patented by Nintendo, but the patent has since expired. Sony bypassed this patent before its expiration by dividing their dpad’s + shape in the center. Dpads on modern controllers typically exist next to the control stick, and compete for attention with it.

Arcade Stick

A digital input device similar to a control stick, but sends digital output signals instead of analog ones. Usually has switches on the inside that click when the stick is set in a particular direction. The mechanisms on the inside resemble a number pad with 9 sectors, sending the signal for the appropriate direction based on which sector the stick overlaps. May have a gate on the inside that restricts the movement of the stick across these sectors. The default is a square gate that aligns precisely to these sectors, with octagonal or circle gates restricting access to the full range of motion for the stick, but making it a bit easier to feel out the direction of movement. Regrettably, because the mechanisms inside are still in a numpad-like configuration, oct and circle gates cover up significantly more of the diagonal sectors.

Build Order

In RTS games, build order is the order in which you build buildings. In these games, by changing the order in which you build, you can gain access to certain unit types and tech more quickly. As a result, specific build orders have been written down in order to get certain compositions of units as soon as possible in the early phases of various RTS games. Build order in the early game tends to influence what types of units you’ll have in the late game, as it’s usually more beneficial to specialize in producing a certain type of unit than spread yourself thin trying to get all of them.

Ludonarrative Dissonance

A term coined by Clint Hocking to describe the way in which the message of Bioshock contradicted the means by which Bioshock expected the player to progress. Has since been taken to refer to any point at which actions players take contradict the story or setting of the game.

The implication of the term Ludonarrative is that the actions of the player through gameplay form a story that is connected to the narrative of the game, rather than the more simple model that the player’s actions and the events exposed through cutscenes and dialogue form separate canons.

My personal stance is that it exists, but doesn’t matter, because in my view, only gameplay matters, and constraining gameplay to fit the plot is a negative design strategy. Further, I don’t believe that the player’s actions form a story, or interface with the game’s story.

Immersion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkHAPZLx6ok

RNG / Random Number Generation

Because games are about pursuing favorable outcomes from inconsistent systems, randomness is an easy method of creating inconsistency. Random Number Generators are used by computers to create numbers that appear to be inconsistent, then either directly use these numbers in calculations or simply determine if a certain outcome occurs based upon them.

Random number generation methods vary widely from game to game. Computers cannot generate truly random numbers, and so must rely on other factors, such as the game clock, the system clock, pregenerated lists of numbers, or entropy blobs created by player actions or events in-game. These pseudorandom numbers are none-the-less very close to actual random results in most cases, and are from the player’s perspective non-deterministic. Even simple methods like using the framecount to determine an outcome is effectively random from the player’s perspective since no player can realistically keep an accurate framecount in their head.

Some games, like Diablo 3 and Dota 2 use pseudorandom number generators (PRNG) to generate distributed random numbers. Not to be confused with how computer generated random numbers are already pseudorandom. Humans are poor at calculating chance and interpreting the results of random chance, tending to see connections where there is no correlation. Pseudorandom Number Generators use an algorithm that distributes the odds of an event happening across multiple chances for it to occur so that it occurs more consistently in line with human expectations. This means that the odds of an event happening consecutively are very low, and the odds raise with each additional chance for the event to occur until its occurrence becomes near certain. So a 1 in 4 chance will occur roughly every 4 times, rather than having floods where it occurs frequently or droughts where it fails to occur for long periods of time. This ensures a more uniform distribution.

Random number generation is an easy method to produce uncertainty in games, but it can also produce frustration because it is nondeterministic. Humans expect correlation between events and attempt to improve their consistency at performing. Because random events lack consistency and consistency cannot be raised or even directly affected through better performance, random chances of success are more often than not detrimental to a game, especially a multiplayer game.

Randomness can be used in a positive way to create adaptation challenges however and to ensure that players are really reacting to a stimulus rather than simply memorizing the timing, which is beneficial in beat ’em up action games. The rogue-like genre is built on the use of randomness to procedurally generate environments, as are action puzzle games, which need randomness to prevent players from memorizing a set solution to a pattern of block drops.

New Game + / NG+

After a single player game has been beaten, NG+ allows one to restart the game with some variables such as character level or unlocked abilities/equipment persisting from the first playthrough or loop of the game, and may change elements of the game to compensate in difficulty or for simple amusement.

Devil May Cry’s mission system functions like this, allowing the player to take weapons and abilities they’ve unlocked and use them in any mission on any difficulty at any time. Dark Souls has a basic implementation where level and equipment are carried over and enemies are made tougher to compensate. Dark Souls 2 includes new enemies that only appear on NG+ and new items only obtainable in NG+ loops. Tales of Symphonia and the other Tales games have a very complex NG+ system where players buy what they’d like to take effect in the next playthrough using the GRADE currency accumulated in battles throughout the game.

Grinding

Repeating a task or challenge to gain resources. When there’s no upper cap on the resources that can be gained this way, one can frequently grind on low risk low penalty challenges then apply those resources to higher difficulty challenges in order to make them easier. Some games mandate that repetitive tasks be performed to gain resources to progress. Many RPGs, due to the way character strength is represented numerically and the way battles are attrition-based and cannot be won if one’s efficiency is not great enough to overcome the rate of attrition from enemies, require grinding to progress.

Fog of War

A mechanic that obscures part of a level until your character or a unit you control are within a certain range of it. After passing through the area you can freely view the area on your map or directly if the camera permits, but may not be able to view enemy or neutral units within the area.

Ludology

Study of play, or study of games.

Narratology

Study of narrative.

Non-Linear

A single player or co-operative game is nonlinear when progression through the game is not strictly closer to the end or further from the end. Can be used to refer to branching paths before the end, as well as connections from later areas to earlier ones or reuse of areas at the player’s discretion. Non-linearity may refer to a game’s path of progression overall, or the routes possible within the level.

Linearity can make managing challenges and difficulty level/curve easier. Nonlinearity allows for more possibilities to emerge from different elements of the level interacting with each other, and on a simpler level allows the player to traverse the level multiple ways in multiple orders.

Open World

In an open world game, all level design elements are contained together with an open field between them rather than being arranged strictly as paths and sub-paths as is the case in most games.

Stage Select / Level Select

A type of branching path or nonlinear level ordering that allows players to choose between multiple possible paths through a game.

Procedural Generation

Procedural generation is the practice of generating content, such as levels, enemies, or events, dynamically according to a set of rules. Procedural generation may be random or deterministic from a set of predetermined data, such as a string (typically called a seed, which itself is randomly determined, but may be shared with others), picture, or piece of music.

Procedural generation is tricky to do effectively, as it involves being able to codify level design knowledge well enough to express it algorithmically to the computer. It can also lead to players resetting many times like a slot machine to get a favorable random seed. Randomized levels however are a way of testing a player’s ability to react and adapt. Without randomization on some level, it is impossible to test a player’s reaction skill, except the very first time they are presented.

Quick-Time Event / QTE

Originally called an Action-Button Event with its first inclusion in Shenmue, Quick-Time Events are sequences in which all input from the controller is suspended as a cutscene or canned animation plays and a specific input is demanded, usually with a button prompt on the screen. This button can be randomized or predetermined by the type of QTE.

Animation / Character State

In games where players control a character, their state is frequently controlled by a combination of inputs and animations. Their state is in most cases directly analogous to the animation they are currently performing. Animations are controlled by what’s called a Finite State Machine, where it transitions between states based on player input and when animations complete. Neutral states such as walking, running, or jumping, are allowed to transition into most other states freely, but many alternate actions such as attacks, are restricted in their ability to transition to other states, transitioning back to a neutral state when they complete. The patterns by which animations transition through states and their movement while in states is strongly connected to game feel.

Inverse Kinematics

Inverse Kinematics (commonly abbreviated IK) refers to the use of kinematic math to determine the correct amount that joints in legs, arms, or other jointed limbs should rotate in order to match the end point of the last joint.

This is used in games most commonly to make legs bend the correct amount when characters walk on sloped surfaces. It naturally has other applications, such as in rotating character’s heads to face other characters, whip-like weapons or scenery. Inverse Kinematics can be thought of as “pulling” the limb from its end, and naturally is a central component of ragdoll physics. Inverse Kinematics determines the correct amount that each joint must bend to meet the end point without stretching unrealistically. A lot of modern game glitches with characters’ limbs being out of proportion or bent the wrong way or generally being in the wrong place is due to Inverse Kinematics.

Forward Kinematics

Forward Kinematics refers to the use of kinematic math to rotate joints in a skeleton arbitrarily, moving all the child joints on top of it. Where Inverse Kinematics can be compared to pulling a limb, Forward Kinematics is more like each joint pushing itself. Inverse kinematics cares most about the end point, where forward kinematics has no regard for the end point and only regards the movement of each individual joint.

Most 3d animation systems are built on forward kinematics, through rigging a model to a skeleton, composed of bones that exist in a hierarchy. Each bone controls a certain portion of the model, and moving one bone will also move all the child bones grouped below it. Forward Kinematics is the process of defining how much each limb should move at what time, at what angle. Most games use almost purely forward kinematics to animate characters, then blend in inverse kinematic equations to make sure characters interact with scenery correctly (characters are animated with the expectation of a flat surface, IK helps them adjust to slopes, stairs, or unexpected small obstructions).

The game animation engine Euphoria is known for its ability to blend forward and inverse kinematics into every animation, allowing for smooth interactions between characters, scenery, and smooth state changes that flow naturally from the prior animation.

Game State

A sum of all the current positions and values of all entities that exist within a game at any given point in time. A save state frequently saves a precise game state. Game states include every combination of every range of variables possible within a game, barring those that are impossible to produce through gameplay.

Dialogue Tree

A method of presenting dialogue where at certain points the player is prompted to choose between several possible lines of dialogue that can be played. Called a tree because if looked at like a flowchart, each sequence of dialogue is like a branch, with choices being junction points between different branches.

Dialogue trees create small state spaces in comparison to other mechanics, especially because every possible state in a dialogue tree needs to be specifically created by writers, and there is little to no interaction between different possible decisions.

Flow

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29

http://www.jenovachen.com/flowingames/flowtheory.htm

Flow is a state of focus achieved in response to performing a task that is both difficult and that the performer is skilled enough to meet the difficulty of. There are additional conditions to reaching flow, such as It is believed by some to be synonymous with fun, or at least deeply connected to it. Flow is a common state for players of games. Flow is referred to colloquially as “The Zone”.

Engagement

A superset containing flow of being engaged in an activity. To have one’s attention engrossed in an activity or subject matter. Lacks the specific requirements of flow, but covers many general cases where a person’s attention may be invested, such as reading a book or watching a movie. Can describe a player’s investment more generally than the few times they reach a flow state.

Fun

Colloquially a vague and subjective term. Fun is the amusement derived from play. Because this cannot be directly quantified, describing things as fun is typically not very useful for attempting to discuss the relative merits of different games.

Raph Koster proposed an alternative definition to fun in his book, Theory of Fun. He later went into more detail about fun and the neurochemical processes involved in it in a talk he gave 10 years after originally publishing the book. According to Raph Koster, based on evolutionary psychology, Fun is an evolutionary mechanism evolved in order to motivate humans to perform difficult (inconsistent) but rewarding tasks. Humans are autotelic, so they can find and define purposes and tasks for themselves. To that end, fun is repurposed from its evolutionary function to the purpose of simple amusement seeking in the form of games.

Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is a behavior where people implicitly agree to accept fantastic elements within the telling of a story. A person’s suspension of disbelief is said to be broken when an element in a story is too unbelievable to accept it.

Suspension of disbelief is challenged or broken in places where a work attempts to pass itself off as being genuine to reality but is not. Such as where a fantastic element can be extrapolated to have realistic implications, but fails to meet those implications. A common example is how people accept that superman can fly, has super strength, and laser vision, but not accept how people cannot recognize that he is Clark Kent without glasses.

Dynamic / Game Dynamic

A dynamic is a phenomenon resulting from a group of mechanics that creates a pattern in the way players interact with the game.

Genre

A group of games representing a coherent set of mechanics revolving around specific play dynamics and/or methods of inputting actions and representing those actions. Genres can mix with each other as they share mechanics.

Fighting Game

A genre in which players compete with each other to win in rounds in primarily melee combat, where attacks can interrupt each other, where all characters are created with a similar set of movement, defense, and attack options that are controlled in a similar manner, fight in limited rounds that do not persist anything beyond them, and generally reset to a more neutral state on each round’s end.

Beat ’em Up

2d topdown games presented like 2d sidescrolling games. Only allow characters to face left or right. Can be difficult to judge the range of attacks on the Y axis because it does not directly correspond to the dimensions of the sprite.

3D Beat-em-up / 3D Action / Brawler / Stylish Action Game / Character Action Game / Cuhrayzee Game

No one is really sure what to call this genre, the canon of which includes God Hand, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, God of War, Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta, Darksiders, Metal Gear Rising, Wonderful 101, Sengoku Basara, Max Anarchy/Anarchy Reigns, and Shinobi. Some people call some of these games Hack and Slash because they feature a sword, but that title is reserved for games like Diablo, Path of Exile, Torchlight, and so on.

Hack & Slash

Diablo, Path of Exile, Torchlight, and so on. A type of 2d topdown game in which characters are controlled by the mouse cursor, and attack enemies by locking onto them.

Real-Time Strategy / Real-Time Tactics / Turn-Based Strategy / Turn-Based Tactics

Okay, two divisions here, Real-time versus Turn-based, and Strategy versus Tactics. Realtime and Turnbased are fairly obvious. Strategy refers to a game where there are resources built up across the course of the game that are used to build structures or units. Tactics refers to where you have a static supply of units in a given encounter and focus one encounter at a time.

These genres in general are about controlling multiple units, ordering them to perform tasks, and sometimes they have limited autonomy that can be directed by the player.

Platformer

Refers to a game in which characters jump between platforms, which may be attached to things, raised from the ground, or hang in the air.

Adventure Game

A game in which progress is determined by matching key items or abilities to obstacles that are cleared with those key items or abilities.

First Person Shooter

A genre of games where the camera is placed at the character’s head and all actions are seen directly from the character’s perspective, with the rotation of the camera controlling the rotation and movement direction of the character. The center of the camera is a reticule used for pointing at things, aiming shots, and interacting with the world.

Third Person Shooter

A genre similar to first person shooters, except from the perspective of a camera locked behind a character’s shoulders. A reticule at the center of the camera determines where the character will direct their shots and sometimes other combat actions.

Metroidvania

A genre with a close connection to adventure games, but more focused on nonlinear progression through a world that steadily opens up in response to item acquisition or opening up shortcuts and sometimes warp points.

2D Topdown

A genre of games in which character position is represented by two axes, north-south and east-west. Characters can walk in any direction along these axes freely in 2d topdown games.

Stealth Game

A genre where the AI of enemies is emphasized and the implicit goal is to avoid detection. This is reinforced through making the enemies highly lethal, and giving them advanced perceptual systems, as well as granting the player means to manipulate those systems to misdirect enemies, and environments complex enough to plot paths around enemy lines of sight.

RPG / Role Playing Game

Refers loosely to a game in which there is a system of statistics that affect the performance of the player character(s), which can be increased in a persistent manner. RPG mechanics, persistent specialized growth, can be applied to many different genres, and have come to be known as “RPG Elements” when applied this way. “Pure” RPGs tend to have turn based combat in cycles of attrition where victory is generally decided by having high enough stats through grinding.

MMO / Massively Multiplayer Online Game

A game in which a single server concurrently hosts a very large number of players in a single instance that can all see and interact with one another. Generally RPGs. Have come to have their own combat style associated with them based on using abilities with cooldowns in rotations to maximize efficiency of damage output, tanking, healing.

Shmup / Shoot ’em up

A genre in which players control a small character on a 2d topdown screen. Enemies approach from offscreen, shooting projectiles at the player. Players have no or limited control over the rate that enemies appear or the environment moves forwards. Players are expected to shoot back.

Visual Novel

Not necessarily a game, but a genre in which players are expected to navigate dialogue trees and read dialogue. Can occasionally contain games or puzzles within this structure. Notable as an example of digital entertainment alternate to games. Some are non-interactive apart from progressing the dialogue on screen such as the When They Cry series.

Puzzle

Debatably not always games. A genre in which players need to use critical thinking skills to discover a solution set up by the designer. Tend not to have very large state spaces. Evaluating the quality of a puzzle is typically very different from evaluating the quality of a game.

Action Puzzle

Debatably not puzzles. A genre in which blocks or other elements need to be arranged into patterns to clear or manipulate them in some way towards a goal, such as making rows, matching colors, or organizing them into clusters.

Tactical Shooter / Modern Military Shooter

A sub-genre of First Person Shooter that tends to favor slow movement, fast time to kill, regenerating health, the use of iron sights, hitscan or fast projectile weapons, small weapon carry limits, realistic map designs, and the use of cover to avoid damage.

Arena Shooter / Classic Shooter / Arcade Shooter

A sub-genre of First Person Shooter that tends to favor fast movement, slow time to kill, static health recovered through found items, firing without entering an alternate firing mode, a mix of slow to fast projectile weapons and few hitscan weapons, large weapon carry limits, abstract map designs, use of movement to avoid damage.

Rhythm Game

A game in which a player is expected to input in sync with a rhythm. They are typically graded based on how close their timing is to the timing of the expected inputs.

Racing Game

A genre where control is usually over vehicle pawns that can only accelerate forwards or backwards and must turn while moving to change their direction of movement. The goal in most games of this genre is to reach checkpoints faster than competitors.

Rogue-like

A genre characterized by entirely procedural generation of content and most often permanent death, upon which new content is generated.

http://www.roguebasin.com/index.php?title=Berlin_Interpretation

Asymmetric Multiplayer

Multiplayer in which the sides may have different goals, resources, loadouts, characters, or options.

Cooperative Multiplayer

Multiplayer in which players work together towards a common goal and there are not different sides consisting of players.

Role-Play

The act of taking on a role and acting in accordance to that role. Role-play is a type of play that exists independently of games, but may overlap with them. The desire to win, and actions taken to that end can conflict with role-play.

Input Redundancy

Binding two sources of input on the same controller to the same actions. Can help players perform inputs when the finger normally reserved for a particular input is occupied elsewhere.

Meta-Game

Forces outside the bounds of a given game that affect the game’s outcome. The metagame is the larger game around the actual game being played, such as how much rest the players have, their training, their knowledge of each other, their knowledge of obscure facets of the game, trends in the way the game is played, and so on. On the level of competitors, metagame typically only refers to trends in the way people play the game. Continuous winners of competitive games typically have knowledge of the current trends in how other people play the game, and attempt to utilize that knowledge to either make the best theoretical choices according to the current metagame (meta for short), or counter the choices they expect players abiding by the meta to make. The metagame evolves as more details about the game are discovered, and optimal choices and counters are more thoroughly explored.

Game Theory

A decision-making theory regarding the decisions of rational self-interested actors. Doesn’t totally pertain to game design, doesn’t always describe people the best, because people are frequently irrational.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory

Zero-Sum Game

A game in which the number of victory points gained by a player is always proportional to the amount lost by the opposition (the sum of these is equal to 0). Can also be used to mean a game in which the amount player win is always proportional to the amount that the other players lose. Non-zero sum games allow players to gain unequal amounts relative to the losing players, or have an unequal number of winners and losers when wins and losses are not in proportion to one another. For example, there might be one overall winner among four players and he gains 1 victory point instead of him gaining 3 victory points while the other players lose 1 each.

Perfect Information

When all players in a game are aware of the complete state of the game. No real-time game is perfect information due to the reactionary blind-spot.

Hidden Information

When information is not known to all players, that information is hidden. To have rock paper scissors type interactions, some information must be hidden.

Double-blind

Refers to when both players need to make decisions without knowing what decisions their opponent is making. Rock Paper Scissors is a classic double-blind game. Some players attempt to cheat at Rock Paper Scissors by throwing late in reaction to what their opponent threw, avoiding the normal double blindness of the game.

Vertical-Slice

Production term for a section of a game that is intended to be representative of all the mechanics across the game and the general design style of the game. Usually one of the first levels developed for a game, also usually the level used in demos or playable alphas of the game intended to inform the public about the game.

Simulated Space / Simulated Environment

Presenting a game’s visuals such that the various elements exist within a space, and the elements have relationships to one another based upon that space. The vast majority of all video games make use of simulated space in some way, such as mario, doom, zelda, starcraft, tennis for two, pong. Games that do not feature simulated space have relationships between objects that are non-spatial or abstract. Such as card games, many board games, command line games, and a number of puzzle games, but not action puzzle games (like tetris) generally.

Abstract Mechanic / Abstract Game

A game or mechanic that does not have any representation in simulated space, or metaphor relative to reality or fiction. Super Meter in Fighting Games are an example of this, as is a lot of resource management. Experience points in RPGs are another example. Tetris is an example of an abstract game, as is poker, and rock paper scissors.

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2 thoughts on “Critpoints Glossary

  1. Lee May 2, 2016 / 10:36 am

    This is a fantastic glossary. There’s wasn’t anything this comprehensive and detailed on the internet until now.

    Like

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