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Emergent Gameplay

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When a game is developed, its designers come up with some core gameplay mechanics. As players play these games, however, they come up with new strategies and ideas resulting from putting individual mechanics together.

This article (of necessity) will only list notable examples, such as ones that have been given names by players.

Compare Emergent Narrative. Unlike (but closely related to) Gameplay Derailment, emergent gameplay features are generally seen as positive developments. May result from Good Bad Bugs, but bugs are not necessary. Metagames of competitive games, in particular Character Tiers, are examples of emergent gameplay. Sequence Breaking and speedrunning are also examples, as are Video Game Caring Potential and Video Game Cruelty Potential when not tied to the actual plot. The Immersive Sim genre puts emergent gameplay on the forefront of its game design. Compare Self-Imposed Challenge.


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    Action Adventure 
  • Metroid: The maze-like structure and open-endedness of the first game was very interesting to speedrunners, since it allowed them to devise and test alternative routes, intended or not, through the game. Its third installment, Super Metroid, continues to be a widely-appreciated game, with Good Bad Bugs still being discovered that allow new speed tricks. Furthermore, said openness helped give rise to the Metroidvania genre.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is largely geared toward this, as unlike in other The Legend of Zelda games, the player is provided a large variety of tools very early on with little more direction in the vast open world than 'defeat Ganon in Hyrule Castle.' Getting to certain areas requires players to figure out how to overcome the hazards, notably Death Mountain's obscene heat that will constantly damage the player and set fire to all wooden equipment. It will often nudge players to a particular way of achieveing it, such as stumbling on an NPC who will sell the player heat-proofing potions to get up Death Mountain, but several other methods exist for making the hazardous treck through the land's hottest environment, including floating from a nearby tower to a hot spring and making a deadly run up toward a guy with a mission to obtain a piece of fireproof armour, or simply stuffing your face with healing foods as you run to the Goron City where the entire fireproof armour set can be purchased. Its direct sequel The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom designs itself around this trope with its signature Ultrahand ability, with "Hylian Engineering" or "Hyrulean Engineering" being the Fan Nickname for creative, overcomplicated, or uniquely weird contraptions.
    • Tackling enemy strongholds also promotes a lot of emergent behaviour. Do you run in sword-swinging everything and brute forcing through an encounter? Do you fire arrows from a distance to thin the crowd a bit before taking them on? Do you roll a boulder down a nearby hill into some conveniently placed explosive barrels? Do you wait until it's night time so the enemies are fast asleep, letting you sneak around and off them one by one with a single, clean swing to their peacefully snoozing faces?
    • This is also apparent in certain shrines, as puzzles can often be beaten in alternate ways. One good example involves a motion-controlled balancing puzzle guiding a ball through a maze. The entire maze can be flipped upside down and the player can simply guide the ball straight to the intended path, bypassing the maze completely.
  • The Nemesis System of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-earth: Shadow of War allows for the organic development of orc characters through their interactions with the player and one another. Orcs develop reputations based on their accomplishments and their failures, and the player can influence their reputations by defeating them, allowing them to flee, or recruiting them. A lowly slave Uruk can become a captain by managing to kill the player by some luck, work his way up to warchief or even overlord. Orcs that were presumed dead can cheat death and Come Back Strong. Loyal orcs can turn traitor and try to kill you. An orc may try to kill you to avenge the death of his blood brother. An orc that you shame or drive out of your army may end up being driven insane. The possibilities are vast and varied.

    Driving Game 
  • DethKarz is structured like most driving games of its time: the player starts out on low-performance vehicles and is supposed to aim for the high tier. However, along with the bad specs in most other areas, low-tier vehicles also have low grip, which makes them very slide-happy, a feature they lose as the player unlocks better ones. As a result, intentionally driving the low-tier cars exclusively turns the game into a drifting sim - possibly the first ever.

    Fighting Game 
  • Combos in Fighting Games started out as this. Players were never intended to be able string multiple attacks together in the original Street Fighter II, however once the players figured out how to do them, the developers acknowledged them, as did every other fighting game developer at the time. Even today, the majority of the combos in these games are things that the players themselves create. In fact, it's generally acknowledged that one of the marks of a good fighting game is how much freedom it provides the player in terms of developing combos.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • Released as a fun, random, chaotic party game, Super Smash Bros. 64 and Melee have garnered much competitive attention for their astonishing, completely accidental technical depth. This video doesn't even begin to explain.
    • Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a conscious attempt to close the gaping chasm between skill levels in Melee, by slowing the overall pace and streamlining most high-level techniques out. Opinions on the matter are mixed; most competitive players will point out that Melee was still a perfectly functional party game for people who didn't care to learn to wavedash, and casual players openly appreciate a larger character roster, stage selection and item list. All the same, competitive play developed, a new metagame arose and the skill gap opened anew.

      One of the major things they were trying to get rid of were a lot of so-called "technical skills" — that is to say, very difficult to execute in-game commands which require a lot of practice to perform. Mechanics like wavedashing (which more or less replaced normal movement in Super Smash Bros. Melee) and L-cancelling (which was simply a case of bad design — there's never any reason not to L-cancel every move ever, so why is it the game in the first place?) were deliberately removed in order to simplify the controls. They largely succeeded at that, but the more people practice a fighting game, the more emergent gameplay tends to come out.
  • Nidhogg is based around a six button/key control scheme, with a very advanced set of actions, even when four of those buttons are directional buttons.
  • As argued by Core-A Gaming, Tekken saw a form of emergent gameplay through its back dash, and the subsequent impact it had on the game's movement. This is due to the back dash's ability to be canceled into any other action except for another back dash; pro players were able to circumvent this by canceling their back dashes into a crouch, which was the fastest way to lead into another back dash. This led to the creation of the "Korean Back Dash", a technique that dominates high-level Tekken play and a contributor to the unique spacing game the franchise has when compared to other fighters.
  • Advanced Variable Geo: The first H-Game titles had the fights as a mere excuse to win the opponent and see the Hentai scenes. For Advanced V.G. series, the combats evolved into something more competitive and more fighting-oriented, becoming a real fighting game on its own terms, being AVG2 the pinacle of the series.

    First Person Shooter 
  • Originally, Starsiege Tribes was a tactical FPS, based on vehicles, and teamwork with massive open maps that would be nigh-impossible to practically cross on foot. And then players discovered that by "Hopping" using their jetpacks, they could essentially disable friction for their character, letting them "Ski" down slopes at immense speeds, and use the built up momentum to hurl themselves across the map. Soon players were using client-side macros to automate skiing at the ideal rate, superseding vehicles as the favored form of transportation. By Tribes 2, skiing had become an official feature, and the game's largely projectile-based arsenal would lead to a game of speed, trajectory prediction, and reflexes, with the well-earned title of "World's fastest shooter".
  • The idea for Left 4 Dead came about when Turtle Rock Studios (who developed L4D) were developing the bots for Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and decided to play game where there were a ton of bots, players versus bots, and the bots on very hard with knives only. The result is very similar to the Horde Zerg rushing at times in L4D.

  • In Final Fantasy XI, the ninja job was introduced with the intention that players would use it as a damage dealer that would use magical ninjutsu to supplement physical damage. However, players discovered that the Utsusemi ninjutsu, which would nullify attacks for a few times, coupled with the ninja's great evasion stats, made it a great choice for a tank. Eventually, developers began producing gear for ninjas that complemented this play style instead.

  • Nudging a pinball machine to save an otherwise doomed ball has become an allowed maneuver in competitions, as long as you don't tilt. The technique of banging the bottom of the table to knock the ball over a divider and back into play, on the other hand, remains universally banned.

    Platform Game 
  • In Everybody Edits, using a bunch of simple blocks, a player can create many complex systems not within the original scope of the series.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • Starcraft: being able to tell where a (competitive) opponent's base is by how long it takes their scout to find you.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Pokémon: The entire metagame idea of "tiers" is an emergent gameplay feature.
  • Dualcasting, a signature skill of The Red Mage in Final Fantasy, allows one to cast a second spell immediately after the first. Players soon learned that they could exploit this ability to maximize the Red Mage's damage by using a weaker spell with a shorter casting time to prime the dualcasting skill, allowing them to instantly cast a much stronger spell afterwards. The developers learned about this exploit and decided from that point forward to make it a cornerstone of the Red Mage's skillset.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes: Through creative combination of different heroes and skills, the playerbase has developed quite a number of different strategies that seem to have been unintended by the developers. For a simpler example, once the skill Null Follow-Up first made its way onto a unit's weapon, it became possible to combine it with the skill Windsweep (or Watersweep), which would prevent the target from counterattacking while preventing your unit from following up. But with NFU in play, that follow-up negation would be itself nullified, allowing units to attack freely without sacrificing their firepower, thus creating a whole new category of units - NFU windsweep abusers. Eventually, the developers started adding units (such as Young Merric and Masquerade Ethlyn) coming premade with that kit. But the star example of this trope in effect is undoubtedly Winter Bernadetta. A rare seasonal unit, she has the extremely unique effect of dealing 1 HP of damage to units around her (even those on her team) at the start of her turn. Given the wide variety of weapons and effects that either require or penalise 100% HP, she was probably intended to be a difficult tool - someone who could enable the likes of Brave Lysithea but needed to be kept away from units who wanted full HP. However, this was also the first time the players had ever been granted a way to take HP from their own units without relying on their opponent's structures or entering combat. And after a few weeks, meta players realised that by combining that effect with clever use of Ardent Sacrifice (a move that can switch HP totals between units, but only if one is already injured), they would be able to very easily bring a unit to below 75% HP, which would allow other units with the skill Wings of Mercy to warp to them. WoM had already been a mainstay of Galeforce teams, which overpower opponents with sheer action economy before the other team can even take their first turn, but this new method of setting up the strategy without the need for fiddly combat calculations (and praying your WoM beacon didn't just get one shot killed by their intended target) made her so *incredibly* popular that she became one of the most ever sought-after utility units.

    Simulation Game 
  • Kerbal Space Program: Due to the game's Wide-Open Sandbox nature and the diversity of available parts, quite a few people find ways to have fun with the game without launching rockets into space at all, or by finding unusual uses for game parts. Geofley's Cove, a fully aquatic base on Laythe note , is one of the less outlandish examples.
  • Dwarf Fortress: By sheer weight of the amount of simulations such as weather, erosion, and population density (among other things), there is quite a bit of emergent gameplay.
    • One of the most important concepts to know to create a running fortress in less than a few days of gameplay are pump stacks, which are clusters of pumps that allow for instant transportation of water or magma from any lower z-level to the top of the stack.
    • Alternatively there's the magma piston, utilizing the fact that a pillar of rock collapsed into a pool of magma instantly teleports the liquid on top of itself regardless of what was in between. It's faster, more FPS‑friendly, and someone actually managed to make it reusable.
    • Another prominent example is the Dwarven Atom Smasher, basically a raised drawbridge pulverizing anything it's dropped on. It's a suprisingly versatile tool, used commonly as a death trap and even more often for garbage disposal, or to fling invaders and other stuff high into the air (with practical and unpractical uses).

    Stealth Game 
  • In some installments of the Thief series:
    • Players were able to figure out that throwing a wooden crate onto a ledge and then shooting a rope arrow into it was one way of being able to use rope arrows in a space that otherwise seemed unsuitable to them (as they can only stick into wood or soil). The Fan Sequel The Dark Mod actually notes and briefly touches upon utilising the crate-roping method in its tutorial mission.
    • Then there are the occasional cases of players tricking various, mutually hostile NPCs into fighting each other.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Gears of War is one of the most well-known shooters with a cover system, but people who've played its multiplayer will know that the only thing anyone actually uses its cover system for is "wallbouncing". Since sliding into cover is faster than running, people repeatedly bounce between pieces of cover (if they're good enough at it they never even touch cover and just repeatedly cancel out of the slide and start the next one) in order to move around the map quickly or dodge incoming shots. Anyone who doesn't currently have a power weapon will be bouncing around the map with the Gnasher Shotgun, since its reliable hipfire and ability to One-Hit Kill at close range makes it a perfect match for this particular playstyle, which is so ubiquitous that deviating from it tends to invite hatred and get you called No True Scotsman (even so much as aiming the shotgun instead of hipfiring it will make a few especially hardcore players mad). Whether this is Emergent Gameplay or Gameplay Derailment probably depends on the person you're talking to, but it did lead to the series adding mechanics or weapons in later entries to try to counter it. None of which worked particularly well, because it's simply that good.
  • Online free-to-play shooter GunZ: The Duel began as a fairly standard shooter, albeit with wall-jumping and other feats of badassery. Then, the playerbase discovered a number of bugs that allowed them to cancel animations, a finger-breaking style of play that would later be known as K-Style. These days, it's difficult to compete if you aren't proficient in the styles of play known as K-style, D-Style, or E-Style.

  • Starting in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, the codifying of rules that were previously only the purview of the DM combined with the rise of the internet (and with it the ability to easily share information) led to optimization. Among the most well-known (and controversial) outcomes of this optimization were the tier system for classes in 3.5e, and the guide to being Batman in 3.5e, a wizard playstyle that eschews traditionally-popular spells like Fireball to instead prepare spells that buff party members, debuff enemies, control the battlefield, perform utility tasks, or instantly kill/render helpless enemies.

    Web Game 
  • Dominance in dragon breeding sim Flight Rising was intended as, essentially, a dragon sink—a way to reconcile the mechanics of having infinite dragons but finite lair space by allowing people to get rid of dragons permanently ("exalting" them to the player's flight's deity) in exchange for currency, with the three flights that exalt the most dragons relative to their active populations gaining minor in-game bonuses. To say that it worked is an understatement; players soon realized that they could intentionally exalt as many dragons as possible to gain dominance during a particular week, and thus dom pushes were born. Particularly intense conquest battles involve flights exalting thousands of dragons, player-organized events and raffles to encourage players of non-participating flights to give or sell dragons for the organizers' flight to exalt, and the winners spending so much treasure that they can't take advantage of the actual benefits of having dominance. It's such a big part of the game that a not-insignificant section of players either ignore the actual dragon breeding altogether or only breed dragons for the sole purpose of exalting them.
  • Go Cross Campus: Spies (people signing up accounts on opposing teams), Special Forces (people who make their moves late in the turn so as to prevent spies from being effective), and Swaps ("trading" territories between allied teams to give both teams conquer bonuses).
  • NationStates: The World Assembly Delegate election system gave birth to Raiding/Defending, where organizations compete to take over or protect regions by forcefully electing someone and using the delegacy's powers such as regional appearance or ejecting nations.
  • Warlight: As a Risk-like online indie game, there is little context provided and hard rules are only combat-oriented, yet players have come up with diplomatic games and scenarios with made-up rules. Those tend to provide pretty good roleplay.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Terraria:
    • The Hellevator (a vertical tunnel stretching from the surface down to Hell) and the Skybridge (a bridge in mid-air, used to traverse the upper part of the map and for quick horizontal travel).
    • Also several methods to exploit Good Bad Bugs to generate more liquid (water, lava and honey) than what is normally available, otherwise known as the liquid tile duplication bug.
    • The biggest and most versatile example is the "hoik," which is based on a sloped tile collision glitch and is used for a variety of purposes from ultra-fast transport and glitching through otherwise solid blocks to creating a functional computer and fully-automated boss killing machines in conjunction with the game's switch-and-wiring mechanics, which are highly versatile in themselves.
  • Minecraft: The game as a whole has a lot of this, but one of the most notable examples is the redstone system of which a wide manner of contraptions have been made, including 16-bit computers.
  • TerraTech's building system and physics engine allow for a lot of creativity. While an individual tech cannot have moving parts, players have built "multi-techs" such as walkers, tricycles and tanks with a separate tech for each wheel, leg or turret. These techs have varying degrees of practicality in the campaign.
    • A notable example is the popular hover glitch. If a tech contains a hover plate facing a wheel, the plate generates continuous thrust in one direction, much like a fan blowing on a sail. It also allows the tech to use ground controls whilst airborne. Players have exploited the hover glitch to build airships and perpetual motion machines.

  • Second Life isn't a game itself but the building tools allow for the construction of games and there are many. There's also the ongoing game between Griefers and player-run anti-griefer security.
  • NBA Jam allows players to knock down and gang up on other players to weaken them. This resulted in some house rules in which people would gang up on a player they didn't like, or to weaken each other as much as possible and then play the game with a heavily injured team.
  • In Sword Art Online, players developed a strategy known as "switching": one player uses a Sword Skill, then at the skill's conclusion, a party member "switches" in and attacks with their own Sword Skill while the first attacker is on Cooldown and thus unable to act.
  • Yugioh was designed to have a similar flow to other similar games such as Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering, however Yugioh had two elements that made the game simpler. Firstly, Yugioh did not have an economy like Pokemon energy, meaning any card could be brought out if the requirements were fulfilled. Secondly, Yugioh had easy search cards which would pull new cards to the field. Eventually, when Synchro Summon was added to the game, the speed of matches increased dramatically, and many of Konami's slower cards such as Ritual Monsters were abandoned. After Link Summons were introduced, the game was no longer about methodically setting your field and using multi-turn cards to burn your opponent, but rather became an 0TK (One Turn Kill) game where the point of your deck was entirely designed around getting your best monsters out on turn one and beating your opponent into submission right away (either by attack or effect damage). This got so bad that several errata were made to slow the game down ever so little while not breaking the current game flow (such as limiting Pendulum Summons). An average high-skill match of Yugioh will likely not progress past turn two or three.