i think that is true, but the big issue to me is that most devs (especially indie devs) think the frame or structure is the most important part, purely because it is the essential part. but most essential and most important aren't the same thing
Had to re-read to grasp.
What you say here I agree with. Mechanics are most essential. They are not the most important, though they are the most important in-proportion to their size. A game with great mechanics and 0 (i.e. garbage) everything else is still worth playing. A game with a single terrible mechanic and a great story is garbage, unless the mechanic doesn't really have a presence.
The mechanic is the lens through which the rest of the game is experienced. It is what gives the game it's game-flavour. The only case in which this isn't true is when the mechanic(s) doesn't play a central role, as-in it is not prominent, as-in it doesn't take much attention from the player. But in that case we'd be discussing a game that is more a movie than a game. In other words the more a game becomes a game the more its mechanics become the most critical factor in a player's experience playing it.
here's an analogy: the plot is the essential part of a novel
I missed this the first time around. I don't agree with it. I do not think the plot is the most essential part of a novel. Many, many movies have non-existent plots that don't make any sense, even after 3 seconds consideration, however even despite that those movies can create compelling tales by focusing entirely on character development or action. Plots can hold movies together but so can characters, or themes or tones. The most essential element of a movie is not pre-defined. This is not so for games.
This is partially a result of the market and technology. If you're making a game, as opposed to a novel/movie, you are limiting your audience immediately, you are cutting out live footage (largely), you are cutting out theaters, you are acquiring consumer expectations. You have to care about mechanics because you have to make up for your losses. I suppose in the future this won't be true as the division between game and movie fades.
However, consider the case of a game sequence that is half story and half mechanics, as-in each takes 50% of the player's attention (at least of that given by him to the game). Which is the most important?
edit:Thinking aloud now.
My answer is neither. However, consider the most common case, the one we actually deal with today. The player is always doing something in a game. He is preparing to do something, thinking about doing something, recovering from having done something or doing something. Even in FF7 when the player is doing nothing but roaming town the mechanic is minimal but fundamental to each experience. It "frames" the story, but more importantly, it frames the player's imagination and _that_ frames the story.
Mechanics set up this one-two. They throw the jab and the player throws the straight, then the linear sections react. As a result the mechanics act like pressure on one side of a lever, pushing the player's imagination on the other side, _then_ the story kicks in. No matter how essential your game's story is I can build a mechanic that gets a player to contribute to its impact. If you can lift the player 5 notches into elation I can double that with the right mechanic.
Every story works like this:
2. Audience reaction.
3. New event.
4. Audience reaction that is a combination of momentum from previous reaction and reaction to new event.
Games work like this:
2. Audience reaction.
3. Audience input.
4. New event, that is dependent on previous audience reaction
5. Audience reaction.
6. (Audience input)
All a game is, at its very core, is a story that changes in some way
based on the player's state of mind. The relationship between player state-of-mind and change in story is called a mechanic. The entire weight of each story event is a multiple of a previous event and a mechanic.
Sometimes mechanics add; sometimes they subtract.
We can say things like:
. maybe the story changes only subtly - I'm using the word "story" here very loosely
. maybe what the player actually does doesn't create powerful experiences
Though in both these cases we're travelling away from what a game "is."
As you get closer to a game interaction is more prominent. Here's the key I think. Mechanics are always present. Events in stories happen only once. Characters can be re-used but each situation must be written. In games mechanics generate new experiences on their own. A single mechanic can be used many times.
When I add a mechanic to a game I am adding its influence across the game's entirety. Though I suppose I'm doing the same when I create the PC avatar.
Confusion. I think the modern market demands mechanics-centric games, thus emphasizing their importance. Though in the future this will change. In complete reality the most critical element of a game is what affects the player the most. These can be mechanics; they can be something else. However a lot can be gained by understanding the impact mechanics have on a game, largely because stories are things we've been building competently for a long time (as humans) and mechanics are not.
Often devs throw mechanics into games haphazardly, and people who love games and have spent their lives playing them complain because we are being denied the most important element of playing a game, the experience unique to games. We love games because they are games. If we wanted games to be movies we wouldn't be gamers. We would be writing stories as often as we develop games.
The _reason_ people play games is because they want something that movies/books/tv can't provide. Those are mechanics. People want mechanics. If those mechanics were available to them in reality, with the same combination of other elements, then they wouldn't want games. They want games to play.
It's like when you go to your friends house to talk. You want to have a good conversation. When you go to the mechanic you want him to fix your car. If your friend can fix your car that's great, and if your mechanic can give you a good conversation that's also great, but neither of these things are the most important part. If your friend asks you how can he improve his relationship with you you would sooner say, "have more interesting conversations with me," than, "repair my car more effectively."
So mechanics are the most critical element of games because they are what make games what they are. If they aren't then the player should not be playing that game. They would be playing incorrectly, as-in as the result of a bad decision.