Created By: Folamh3 on June 8, 2013 Last Edited By: Folamh3 on June 8, 2013

Shallow Mechanic vs. Deep Mechanic

Game mechanics which are

Name Space:
Page Type:
Of the various ways of categorizing different kinds of gameplay mechanics and how much freedom they afford the player, one of the most basic is how "shallow" or "deep" they are. Supposing you have two games which both feature some form of telekinesis. In the first, the mechanic is entirely combat-focussed and the player can only use it to lift up enemies and strangle them in mid-air - no other usage is possible. In the second game however, the player can use the mechanic to kill enemies in a much wider variety of creative and sadistic ways, disable security cameras should the player wish to play stealthy, create diversions and stack objects on top of one another in order to climb over walls.

The first game's core mechanic is hence "shallow", as it has only one function and can only be used in one context, whereas the latter's is "deep", as it more fully explores the possibilities of the mechanic and allows the player to use the same mechanic in a number of different contexts and to achieve different results.

A game does not qualify as having deep mechanics if it has a large number of game mechanics each of which can only be used in one way. It is specifically about exploring the various possibilities of individual mechanics.

Note that Tropes Are Tools and this is not for Complaining About Shows You Don't Like: many of the most popular games made have simple, one-dimensional game mechanics, whereas some players may be turned off by overly complex and finicky game mechanics or simply find that they never use half of the functions.

The more freedom a player is afforded in exploring the possibilities of a mechanic, the more developers run the risk of running into a Combinatorial Explosion (conversely, many developers may use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that The Dev Team Thinks of Everything).


  • Most of the game mechanics in Batman: Arkham Asylum (specifically, Batman's various gadgets) can be used in each of the game's three main areas: combat, stealth and platforming. The Batclaw, for example, can be used to pull down weak walls or maintenance grates, affording Batman access to previously inaccessible areas, and can also be used to knock down enemies in combat or to pull them over railings in stealth sequences.
  • The example at the beginning of the page is inspired by two Psychic Powers-themed Dueling Games from the early 2000s, Second Sight and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. The former allows the player to use telekinesis to kill enemies, but also integrates the mechanic with its stealth elements, allowing the player to disable security cameras, create diversions and hide bodies. The latter is more combat-focussed, affording the player freedom to use telekinesis to kill enemies in a variety of creative ways, stack boxes on top of each other and so on. A creative usage of the mechanic (which was actually unintended by the programmers) allows the player to stand on an object and levitate it while standing on it, which was dubbed "TK surfing". Both games also feature a large number of "shallow" mechanics in addition to these.
  • Exploring the various possibilities of the Portal Gun forms the impetus of Portal: the player initially uses it to allow the Player Character Chell to teleport from one location to another, but must quickly learn to use it to redirect energy pellets and rockets in mid-air, "fling" oneself via the conservation of momentum and disable sentry turrets.

Community Feedback Replies: 4
  • June 8, 2013
    Perhaps this would be better off as a Sliding Scale Of Game Mechanic Intricacy?
  • June 8, 2013
    Badbadbadbad Baaaaaad name. An insulting name and description will encourage misuse. In fact, you misused it. The Batclaw is a "shallow" mechanic: it can pull interactable objects. The game designers made it a fun mechanic by providing different contexts. But "shallow" sounds unfun, so you decided it must be "deep".
  • June 8, 2013
    First thought was that the difference between shallow vs deep mechanics would be the difference between secondary and primary mechanics. Such as how Gears Of War is built on the Take Cover mechanic and how to move around the environment and has a steady learning curve. But Active Reloading is one of many simple quirks that add variation to the primary gameplay.

    Thus even under that definition the batclaw is shallow gameplay because it simply adds variation to the predator mode and freeflow combat, it is not a primary mechanic because you are not forced to use it almost always (as opposed to the cape gliding, takedowns or the actual grappling gun).

    I like the basic idea but I think it needs a little more refinement regarding integrated gameplay mechanics.
  • June 8, 2013
    Originally posted by King Zeal

    These are a few ways to determine depth:

    And there can be combinations thereof.