Hidden Mechanics In Video Games (And Why They Suck)

This is about the choices in games we don't even know we're making. Last night, as I browsed for some information on Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate I stumbled across something known as "Charm Tables". Now I won't bore you all with the minutia of how these work, but I will explain the basic premise.

Essentially when you create your character it's assigned a Charm Table (it depends on the time apparently), and it affects what items you can obtain in a rather significant manner. Once you're assigned one there's no way to change it, and since most things can't be traded in Monster Hunter (although this is for a good reason) you're permanently prevented from getting items outside your table. To add insult to injury there are a number of "cursed" tables which are not only significantly worse than the others but also prevent you from crafting certain high level equipment.

That's not the worst part though. The worst bit is that this is all done without the players knowledge. Not only do you not know the result of your choice, but you don't even know you're making a choice at all. It's worth noting that invisible mechanics are nothing new in gaming; there are many things that happen in the background that affect gameplay while the player remains blissfully unaware of how they function. However it's poor form to introduce a hidden mechanic that can drastically change ones playing experience for the entire game. Need that item? Too bad, you created your character at five minutes past two instead of quarter past three.

There's been numerous examples over the years, from Pokemon to Kingdom Hearts. In the latter the player is aware that they're making choices, but the consequences of those choices is obfuscated. While the choice of sword, shield, or wand is fairly obvious the player is given no idea that Wakka & Pals enigmatic pop quiz will dictate how they level up for the rest of the game. And if you plan on clearing all the endgame content slow levelling past 50 can really put a cramp on things.

Similarly Pokemon, like the Monster Hunter example these are choices being made without the players knowledge. The EV system is a set of largely invisible stats that are altered by which Pokemon you fight against, but unless you know about them already you don't even know you're affecting them at all. In this case the precise stats of your Pokemon will only make a difference on a competitive level. For casual play it's largely irrelevant.

Another offender is PSO, with its seemingly innocuous "Section IDs". Like the MH example this is something assigned when you create your character. Rather than the time of day it's based on your characters name. Similarly it affects what enemies drop and there are certain items exclusive to various IDs. Like MH it's a choice you don't know you're making, but at least you're informed of the results.

Still most of these aren't that bad. If you choose poorly in KH it just means that levelling up takes longer, EVs in Pokemon are repairable, and items can be traded in PSO. It can be disheartening though to invest a significant amount of time in a game only to find out you should have picked the handlebar moustache when creating your character. It's speculated that the Charm Tables weren't intended to be fixed as in previous MH games you got a new one every time you reloaded your game. Whether Capcom will correct this in a future patch or not remains to be seen.

Let me know what hidden choices or mechanics in games have infuriated you. In the meantime I have to go check that I'm not on a cursed table.


    haha I found this out myself the other night, and looked at how you find out if you are on a certain table and just decided I'd rather hang myself.

    Also the hidden values in pokemon have always pissed me off

      but at least in pokemon that aren't THAT hidden and its pretty easy (although a bit time consuming) to get a pokemon with 2 or 3 perfect IVs, and EV training can be done pretty quickly and precisely. failing that, you can hack them heaps easy

      Damn knowing my luck I'll roll a 'cursed table' and be none the wiser and just think i suck :S

        actually after this story I did a bit more reading, and apparently the "cursed" tables arent so bad. They dont have the highest quality charms, but they have les charms overall, so the odds of getting the good charms is higher. Where the tables with the best charms have a lot more different charms, lowering your odds of getting the best charms. All of the good charms have a tiny drop rate to start with so it isn't all bad.

    One of my pet gaming peeves is exactly this. I hate finding a mechanic that I can't look up in the manual and understand fully.

      Absolutely. Even worse are the condescending pricks who act all high and mighty when it surfaces that you don't know about these mechanics in a game that you claim to enjoy.

      Piss off, if it's not actually presented in the game then how am I supposed to know about it? And further to that, if it's not a visible part of the game then I can't be arsed looking up a mountain of information outside the game to understand these things and draw up a bunch of arcane-looking charts and tables just to calculate my way through the game. Nor do I want to be punished for not doing that.

    I realise that 95% of the Pokemon market not only don't know about EVs but wouldn't even care about them if they did, and they don't want to put off that market by adding a bunch of numbers all over the UI, but it would be nice if there was an "advanced" option buried in the menus that gave you access to those numbers, with maybe an NPC near the start of the game who mentioned it existed and what it was about.

      I'm still looking for a formula on how exactly move damage is calculated.

      If I have an Eevee with an attack of 250 who uses Tackle with a power of 20 against a Squirtle with a defense of 200 and an hp of 50 - how much hp does that remove?

      If you can give me the formula for this I will be eternally grateful.

        Since Eevee can't have an attack stat that high and Tackle has a base power of 50, I'll assume you've got a hacked game and it is a lv. 100 Eevee with the stated attack. Based on that, I can calculate that Eevee will do between 29 and 34 damage, not including critical hits.
        Using plausible (non-hacked) stats, the actual spread is 63 to 75 damage, not including critical hit chance.
        The formula is here: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Damage_modification#Damage_formula

        The numbers you need to know are the attacking pokemon's level and attack stat, the move's power, the defending pokemon's defence stat, and whether the move is being used by a pokemon of the same type (for example Eevee is Normal and Tackle is Normal).
        You also need to take into account type effectiveness, critical hits, and any other modifiers one or both of the pokemon may have.
        Finally you need to know whether the move is physical (like Tackle) or special (like Bubble), or something more unusual (like Psystrike) to know whether to use attack/defence or special attack/special defence.
        Once you've got all that, the move could still randomly do up to 15% less than you expect.

          For reference, I was pulling numbers out of my head because I was at work.

          But thanks for giving me that :) I'd taken a look around for it in the past, knew it must be up somewhere.

            I knew your numbers were pulled out of your head because they were so round. I only commented on it because I needed to bring up that you'd missed an important stat (the attacking pokemon's level), if I was to calculate the damage for the sake of demonstrating the formula.

    The charm tables were randomly selected on game statup on Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii. the difference between it and the 3DS / Wii U version is that it's locked on character creation. Kind of an oversight, but in the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter about the charm tables, unless you're someone who plans to create some crazy armor sets to solo certain G rank monsters. Even then, losing out on the rustshards isn't a big deal either, since you can still get them from quest rewards.

    Think what you will about the others, but EV's and IV's in Pokemon are a damn good thing. Even if you aren't competitive it gives a whole extra dimension to the game to master and adds makes your party different to someone else's. I have a pikachu I spent ages perfecting speed, attack and sp.attack by hatching eggs time and time again, then training it with the right pokemon.

    Every level you hit after that becomes about more than grinding for xp. It actually makes the other aspects of the game far more rewarding.

    You can take or leave it, so why does it matter? I'm just sick of people complaining about it.

    I thought it was pretty obvious what the quizzes in Kingdom Hearts were for. It's not entirely clear exactly what they affect from the words alone, but the writing was clever enough to indicate to me that it was sizing up how I wanted to play. Personally, I like well implemented hidden mechanics, especially when it's things like RPGs and an average item suddenly becomes awesome because it provides a hidden bonus. Borderlands 1 & 2 and Dark Souls were great at this.

    I hate EV training. It's necessary if you want to competitively battle at all but its SUCH a pain.

    I guess this just doesn’t bother me that much. I understand what people are saying but I personally like a bit of mystery and a puzzle to figure out. Minecraft is a great example of this, but I guess it’s not really a linear journey. The Last Remnants levelling system was complex and never fully explained and if you were doing it wrong you would have no idea until much later on in the game when it’s too late and everything is too hard. Frustrating for a lot of people, I know, but for me I was having a good time and didn’t mind starting again.

      I agree, but this is different from a mystery to be solved though: by the time you find out cursed tables exist your well past the point of being able to use that knowledge in a useful way.

    Pokemon kind of represents the good and bad aspects of hidden mechanics. The EV system needs a lot of tweaking but ultimately its a good extra layer. The fact that its changeable at the end of the game (although it needs to be made easier) is one of the reasons it works.

    IVs on the other hand are stupid. You are pretty much certain to catch a genetically doomed Pokemon, have no idea about it, and have no way to change it. This is a bad system.

    I think the Kingdom Hearts things is fine because you should have a pretty good idea of what its going to do even though it doesn't tell you.

    This only seems to happen in Japanese games too!

    In Demon's Souls you defeat a boss and get it's soul you can crack it open for more XP. Nothing bothers to get you that: you'll never get another one, and that it's useful for crafting.

    I like the idea they have implemented and I like that there is a uniqueness to it that isn't found in other games and I like that it is unknown to the player. Had you not found that article, you wouldn't have even know the difference just that your play experience is unique to other people's.

    This is one instance where the internet has destroyed the magic of a game.

    Additionally.. this is kinda a massive spoiler when you think about it.. ruins the game for me. I won't be able to forget I read this now.

    Last edited 28/03/13 4:57 pm

      Are you actually arguing that him wasting multiple hours trying to get a drop he can't possible get is somehow superior to him having the magic spoiled ? Its very realistic that someone would do this given that RNG drop rates are often so low that spending 5 hours or so and not getting something isn't really all that rare for really good items.

      Silliness like this is why I have the story of pretty much every game I play spoiled before I start. My aversion to wasting 40 hours of my life on idiocy like this is greater than my desire to enjoy the story properly. If you don't want the magic spoiled don't make the magic such bad juju that people want it spoiled as a self-defense mechanism.

    This is as old as FFVII. There were hidden affinity points between the characters depending in some choices or the make up of your party. It only counted towards a "date scene" between Cloud and the character with highest affinity.

    In FFT, there were a handful of choices that were able to permanently alter your most important stats and you were never informed of this even if you did everything right! There was a battle that rewarded you similarly if you ended it quickly but you were never said that either.

      That FFVII example is the first thing I thought of when I saw this article. Cloud on a date with Barret is priceless.

        I have never been able to get on a date with Barret, Once I got with Tifa, but I forgot what I did to get her. I always preferred Aeris anyway since for the one disc she is alive she is quite clearly OP

    Actually as far as Final Fantasy goes I'm aware of a permanent hidden mechanic in Final Fantasy 3 (the actual one not the original US release of VI), your permanent HP was effected by the vitality of the class you levelled up in, so unless you stuck to the higher Vit classes when levelling you could lose the opportunity to max your HP, so it goes back well before VII. I vaguely remember hearing that promoting at a low level in the FF1 resulted in better final stats too (and the optimal level was really difficult to do even with sequence breaking) but I only played a remake so I may be misremembering.

    Those choices in FFT weren't too bad since it was possible to largely correct that kind of thing. I don't remember if the Bravery thing could be fully corrected but it was like a difference of 97 vs 100 if not, and the value was only ever used as a percentage and the higher value would have required ridiculous bravery grinding very early in the game. Now the hidden mechanic where characters with faith over 97 would abdandon your party was evil if you didn't know about it.

    ...S'why you just always answer "The Overseer".

    Final Fantasy 12. There are some number of chests (3?) which you encounter within the first 2 or so hours of the game - perfectly innocuous in every way, containing perfectly innocuous items (e.g. a potion). But woe to the adventurer that opens any of them, for they have now unintentionally voided their chances of the ultimate weapon of the game falling into their lap shortly before the final dungeon.

    When I learned about this I ragequit the game right then and there. The reason given by the developers for why they include this "feature" in the game? To foster intercommunication in the fan base. What a load of garbage.

      +1 for this. And that was the last Final Fantasy Game I played, Aside from GBA Tactics games.
      Annoyed the hell out of me. I also read that the creators thought it would lead to people replaying the game. Uhh. No, that's just stupid.
      Its funny, these things can be interesting, and add depth, but only as long as you can fix the problems you encounter.

      yeah I remember that FF XII problem. You only need the ultimate weapons if your planning on taking on Yiazmat and killing it within 2-3 hours though. Getting Zodiark pretty much negated any challenge to the game.

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