A brief history of mechanics in esports

November 22 2021

Aiming and shooting is the default approach to taking out targets, but have you considered what needs to be done before you’re able to aim and shoot?

Sometimes you even need to find a weapon first. But let’s go deeper than that. You need to position yourself to take the perfect shot. But what if you could position yourself in a stylish way? Throughout the years, video games have provided us with a myriad of ways to position and reposition ourselves.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at those ways and how they came to be. Normally I would say fasten your seatbelts, but putting on your omni-directional mobility gear would be much more applicable in this case. If you’re ready to climb some buildings and take down some Titans, let’s begin.

The Double Jump

"Jump, then jump again. Sure, it breaks the laws of physics, but so do most things I do." — Spider-Man

The grandfather of all movement tricks, the Double Jump represents humanity’s endless endeavor to defy nature. The ability to perform another jump mid-air, while at the complete mercy of gravity, is the ultimate show of power. From the oldest video games to the newest, the ability to jump adds an entirely new dimension to the platforming and combat parts of the games. Adding another jump to the mix literally doubles these opportunities. First appearing in 1984 in Namco’s Dragon Buster, the double jump became an industry staple for a lot of reasons.

First of all, double jump changes the approach to level design, which in itself contributed to the creation of a new sub-genre called Metroidvania. In Metroidvania (a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania) games, big and complex levels contain areas that you cannot reach without obtaining certain items or abilities. Double jump is one of the go-to mechanics in Metroidvania games since it gives you the chance to reach areas that were previously unreachable, without taking away your ability to jump up to that point.

Spiderman websling

Pictured: Spider-Man, doing whatever a spider can. (Image: Marvel)

Double jumping also adds to the mobility side of games, especially in shooters. In most games, your second jump is usually controllable, which enables you to change direction mid-air. From the Devil May Cry series to the Titanfall series, this ability creates fantastic opportunities to pull off incredible stunts in games.

To follow the example, in Devil May Cry games, you can double jump by summoning a magical platform and stepping on it. While in Titanfall and Apex Legends, you can double jump thanks to your Pilot gear and/or Jumping gear. Another common way of incorporating double jump is the player character having permanent or temporary wings. Bayonetta and the God of War series are some of the most prominent examples of this. Bayonetta temporarily forms butterfly wings, while Kratos summons giant wings on his back called the Icarus Lift, to double jump and glide afterward.

Double jumping as an ability also helps deepen the lore of a game. Just like the God of War example, a lot of games utilize their lore to justify in-game mechanics such as the double jump. Of course, Star Wars games come to mind as a great example. In many Star Wars games, your force-wielding character is able to perform double jumps thanks to their training in the Force.

Wall Running

“I wish I could play Prince of Persia for the first time again” - Me, all the time

While double jumping is almost exclusively a video game feature, wall running made its way into lots of other media. Spider-Man (who can also double jump in his video games) being the biggest example, being able to vertically and horizontally run on a wall will always make a character look cool.

Prince of Persia

Grunt problems: Having to fight someone who can run across walls. (Image: Ubisoft)

Just like double jumping, being able to wall run is explained in various ways across the platforms. If your character doesn’t have supernatural arachnid powers; speed, agility, or special gear are usually the explanations behind wall running. Since speedsters such as The Flash, Quicksilver, and Sonic the Hedgehog made their debuts, having them perform a wall run has been a common way to show how fast and unbound by the laws of nature they are. Another great example, of course, is the Prince of Persia. Especially with the Sands of Time Trilogy, Prince of Persia made wall running a mainstream feature in video games.

Since then, a lot of first-person shooters also incorporated wall running to their mechanics, Titanfall being one of the greatest examples. Wall running adds an incredible, adrenaline-inducing depth to traversal in games. Shooting your target while running horizontally on a wall makes you feel like anything’s possible until you have a Titan fall on you.

Parkour

“Parkour!” - Michael Scott

Parkour (and free-running) is the act of getting from Point A to Point B in as flashy a way as possible. It’s mainly an acrobatic style, popularized in video games again by Prince of Persia. So much so that after the Sands of Time Trilogy ended, the next Prince of Persia game in development ended up having too much parkour and stealth mechanics. After the developers at Ubisoft realized that this new game stepped a bit too far out of Prince of Persia’s magical fairytale zone, they decided to make it a standalone game, and Assassin’s Creed was born.

Parkour!

Around the same time period, Mirror’s Edge came out. Switching the parkour action to first-person, Mirror’s Edge paved the way for many first-person parkour games, the biggest example being Dying Light.

While the acrobatics of movement are mostly discarded in first-person shooters, parkour elements made their way into level design. Having to jump over obstacles or slide under them to get to the other side became a staple in shooters. Coupled with wall running and double jumping, the movement shooter genre was born.

Due to its flashy nature, parkour elements have been included in a lot of games, even when they have nothing to do with parkouring or movement of that nature. Having your character jump over an obstacle instantly becomes cooler when they do it with a flip or roll over it, so even games like the Yakuza series include parkour elements to increase the excitement of chase scenes.

Grappling Hook

"Grappling makes things much easier. Try it sometime!" - Pathfinder, Apex Legends

A grappling hook is a complex mechanic if you think about it. It’s not like jumping again mid-air or running on a wall. Those are things you already do in real life, but with a twist. A grappling hook, on the other hand, takes things (and you) to another level, literally.

Grappling hooks allow you to traverse in a multitude of ways. From swinging around like Spider-Man to scaling an entire building like Batman, the grappling hook is the trusty helper of everyone who wants to take bigger strides.

From 1987’s Bionic Commando to League of Legends, grappling hooks made a great gameplay mechanic for any genre of games. Batman video games are the most obvious example, so let’s talk about some of the more creative uses of it.

Bionic Commando

The modern iteration of Bionic Commando with his hydraulic grappling arm. (Image: CAPCOM)

In name, a grappling hook is a claw-shaped hook tied to a rope, thrown by hand, or launched from a grappling gun. But in function, the grappling hook comes in many shapes and forms to adapt to the series it’s included in. A great example of it is in Devil May Cry 4, where Nero’s demonic arm, Devil Bringer, extends to grab enemies and bring them to Nero or to help Nero reach far-out places.

Another great example of a grappling hook is in Worms, where you can shoot your grappling gun (named Ninja Rope in the game) to swing towards the location you want to move towards. The ability to shoot the grappling gun mid-air enables you to chain your swings to reach places even further. Mastering the Ninja Rope in Worms will also increase your reputation among fellow players. It’s no easy feat.

One of the most creative uses of the grappling hook is in the Just Cause series. Its creativity stems from the freedom the game gives the player, so it’s really your creativity that decides how interesting the grappling hook mechanic can be. You can hook multiple items together and hook them to an explosive to create weird devices of your own invention -because what good is an invention if it doesn’t involve explosives?- or just hook your car to have it swing like Spider-Man from one point to another. Just Cause gives you the tools and lets you figure out what to do with them, which is the best way to cause mayhem, innovatively.

While it’s a bit on the nose as an example for me to give, Apex Legends has a great grappling hook mechanic thanks to everyone’s favorite MRVN unit, Pathfinder. Utilizing the grappling hook mechanic from Titanfall, Pathfinder can launch himself at great speeds to gain the upper hand in battle. Pathy can also grapple opponents to pull himself and the opponent together, creating an opportunity to prevent them from running and/or to engage them at close range.

League of Legends also has a few great examples of grappling hooks, the most famous one being Blitzcrank’s Rocket Grab. Thanks to this ability, Blitzcrank can grab opponents far away and bring them closer for a beating. While Blitzcrank can’t use his arm to move himself around, Nautilus can. Nautilus’ Dredge Line ability throws an anchor at the target location, grappling an opponent or terrain it hits. If an opponent is hit, Nautilus and the opponent are pulled towards each other to meet midway. If the anchor hits terrain, Nautilus pulls himself towards the anchor, Spider-Man style.

Discworld Noir and Grim Fandango

Even your favorite film noir puzzlers like Discworld Noir and Grim Fandango employ the humble grappling hook. (Images GT Interactive and LucasArts)

The honorable mention for grappling hook goes to, you guessed it, Scorpion from Mortal Kombat series. While not exactly used for traversal, Scorpion throwing a kunai with a rope to pull his opponent in is one of the most iconic video game moments of all time.

Scanning for Targets

Dubbed “legal wallhack” by many players, the ability to scan for targets has become a common thing in esports. While more realistic games like Counter-Strike are strictly against it, more ability-based games such as Valorant and Apex Legends have characters with scanning abilities.

Due to its nature, the ability to scan targets in competitive video games has an interesting history. Mostly associated with hacking, seeing where your opponents are is usually considered game-breaking in video games. But in time, as the games became more and more filled with abilities and unique characters, scanning for targets found its footing. 

Apex Legends Bloodhound ax

Bloodhound is a Legend entirely built around locating opponents. (Image: Respawn Entertainment)

From Hanzo’s Sonic Arrow to Bloodhound’s Eye of the Allfather, revealing opponents’ positions at the cost of revealing your own or alarming them has become common. Despite it being around for years now, player communities are still disgruntled about scanning abilities. Old habits die hard, I guess.

As I mentioned above, some of the most prominent examples of scanning abilities are from Overwatch, Valorant, and Apex Legends. In Overwatch, along with Hanzo, Widowmaker can also reveal the opposing team’s position with her ultimate ability. In Valorant, Chamber’s Trademark ability deploys a drone that can scan for opponents. In League of Legends, Twisted Fate can reveal targetable opponents all over the map, before being able to teleport to a location of his choosing with his ultimate ability, Destiny. And in Apex Legends… Oh boy. Apex Legends has Bloodhound who can scan to reveal opponents and use their ultimate to highlight opponents. Seer can reveal both the positions and health bars of the opponents he manages to land his tactical ability on. The latest addition to the Legend roster, Ash, can scan for remaining killers of a dead opponent, revealing their position on the map regardless of their distance.

And in Counter-Strike… just kidding, wallhacking is still wallhacking in CS:GO. It’s cheating. Don’t do that.

Honorable Mention: Health Bars

“Rip and tear!” - Doom “Doomguy” Guy

Health Bar is not exactly a gameplay mechanic in most cases, but health is. And design-wise, health bars had an incredible creative journey. While mechanics like double jumping and wall running pretty much stayed the same, showing the player how far they are from death or defeat went through countless iterations, pushing the limits of creativity.

Doom stats

You can also think of it as Doomguy being angry at you for failing. (Image: id Software)

Unless you’re Deadpool from Marvel vs Capcom 3, health bars are there to show your current status. Of course, I’m calling it a health bar but it wasn’t always a bar; or health, for that matter. Before putting a bar on the screen that would show you how much HP you have, developers used to convey your current situation to you in a more symbolic—and in some cases, extremely literal—way.

The greatest and most famous example of this is the classic Doom. Instead of a health bar, you have Doomguy’s face right in the middle of your screen. He looks happy and sometimes angry, the only two emotions in his book. But the more damage you take, the more damaged his face becomes. Instead of a health bar, you’re literally shown the condition of your own face.

Batman Joker Face

Imagine your face being replaced by Jack Nicholson’s. Oh, the horror. (Image: Ocean Software)

Since a bar became the standard design in modern gaming, creative methods for conveying the information on player’s health are most commonly found in older games. In a movie tie-in game for Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, there was a portrait of Batman in the middle of the screen, like Doomguy's face. But in this case, the more damage you took, the more this portrait was replaced by the Joker’s. It’s a great juxtaposition of Batman and Joker being on the two sides of the same coin. Two men with issues, lots of issues.

Last, but definitely not least of the health bar examples is my personal favorite. In Super Mario Bros, you can gather mushrooms to become bigger and when you take damage, you once again become the small, regular Mario. This is actually a health bar. The game never explicitly points this out and lets you figure it out. Bigger Mario means you have enough health to tank one instance of damage, small Mario means you’re on low health and about to die. A truly genius way to incorporate a health bar into a game without even using any health, or bars.

Conclusion

Video games give us endless possibilities to move around and do what we want while relaying enough information to keep us aware of everything. While I can’t criticize anyone for their tastes, I definitely think the effort, both creative and applied, should be appreciated. Video games manage to achieve so many things that are practically invisible to us, but if they weren’t there, we’d feel their absence immediately. So the next time you do a wall run into a 360 no-scope, remember the people who worked hard to help you do that. Speaking of, you know who else helps you become a better player? G-Loot, of course! So make sure to keep an eye on the G-Loot Blog and use the G-Loot app to track your stats, improve your game and climb the ranks.

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Barış Tekin author picture

Barış Tekin
Barış Tekin

Cat Whisperer, Fight Choreographer, Retired Stuntman, Semi-pro Voice Actor. I dream of a world where Caustic mains can be happy.

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