Those who have been reading Tech Tree lately may have noticed that I've been toying with the creation of a side-scrolling shooter. Unfortunately, I normally avoid them as I hate the memorization most require. I'm pretty sure I could get a satisfactory engine running with BYOND that uses random level generation, but I don't have any real knowledge of what makes a decent addition to the genre.

I might turn the project into an arena shooter instead. There's been a glut of them in the indie scene lately, but Robotron: 2084 is more my style than R-Type. I like to progress by skill rather than by landscape. I get frustrated when I'm blocked from viewing content (no matter what the genre is).

Fortunately, I can insert the main mechanic I've been enjoying into all sorts of games.

Something else Tech Tree readers may have picked up on is that I don't like it when a game's story isn't tied to its mechanics. I can deal with a game that tells a linear, preplanned tale, but it better have something to do with the actions the player can perform. (I'll save you the essay about how Ico does this well... It would probably deteriorate into a rant against Shadow of the Colossus.)

The mechanic that has been entertaining me started off as a simple level select inspired by Mega Man. Players could choose a level and, once completed, gain a unique ability based on the level's boss.

However, rather than adding abilities, I decided that new characters would be "rescued". Each would play slightly different from another. More importantly, their abilities would be rebalanced based on their time spent imprisoned. (For example, one draft of my shooter involved characters exchanging hit points for bombs. Their health deteriorated while their rage/despair increased.)

Players could choose which character to start with. Later rescues could increase in difficulty to make choices even more important. The game could end when all characters are free. If so, the last one might even require a mercy killing. Thematically, the imprisonment might have been too much. Mechanically, there's nothing left to do.

In addition to the replay value offered by rescuing characters in different orders, a character's mental state (or how others perceive it) can be tied to a known permutation of rescues. That means anyone who feels the need to add bits of dialogue or whatever else has a framework built into the design. More importantly, the feats a character is able to perform tell the tale.

The same idea probably works without imprisonment, but I think it's a good thematic fit for anything that can be unlocked.

I might apply this mechanic to my randomly generated action RPG.

I had what I thought was a nifty Zorro/DC-inspired theme for replay value at one point. The idea was that I could create different stories for each journey through the game based on the player's secret identity, but factions of the world would keep track of the accumulated actions of the hero they knew and react accordingly. Unfortunately, the villains, mental problems or whatever else I used to define the incarnations felt tacked on in a game that always devolved into tackling a bunch of dungeons.

Now I'm picturing a set of prisons where various characters are kept. It was some sort of agreement between each prison's faction. One day a character escapes and decides to set the rest free to help him/her avoid being recaptured. (Other prisons lack the jurisdiction.) In addition to characters being rebalanced, the order in which a character escapes can affect how aggressive each faction is towards it. The agreement keeps falling apart. The story would match the mechanics.
Considering how much I value mechanics, I hid them in a plethora of "development" posts. I just filtered my blog with the keyword "mechanics". A few posts use game-specific jargon, but designers might be able to get something out of them... More than they would out of bugfixes and skin updates anyway. ;)