3 of 2016's hottest new games are using an old trick to keep you addicted

It’s definitely 2016, right?

Between this “DOOM” game I just finished and the reboot of the original “Ratchet & Clank,” I’m having a lot of flashbacks these days to games I played well over 10 years ago. You too, right?

DOOM 4KBethesdaIt’s been a while, Cacodemon, but we meet once again. I see you’ve brought friends.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course: Both the new “DOOM” and the new “Ratchet & Clank” are fantastic updates to beloved classics.

Things get weirder when you start thinking about the launch of “Overwatch,” which arrived on May 24 — a major new franchise from the same studio that brought you games like “StarCraft” and “Diablo.” Never heard of those two? Both franchises kicked off in the mid-to-late 1990s, though modern versions of both games exist in sequels.

The studio behind them and “Overwatch,” Blizzard Entertainment, is notoriously old-school in its approach to game design. Blizzard sticks to its roots: strong-yet-goofy writing, memorable characters, and tight game loops.

Winston in Overwatch short RecallBlizzard/YouTubeWinston, pictured above, is one of the main characters in ‘Overwatch.’ He’s a sophisticated gorilla, naturally.

It’s that last bit that ties together the otherwise disparate games I’m speaking about here. In “DOOM,” as in “Ratchet & Clank,” as in “Overwatch,” tight, thoroughly tested gameplay loops are the core of the experience.

What are game “loops,” you ask? They’re at the heart of most classic video games.

In the original “Super Mario Bros.,” for instance, the “loop” is a game level. You start on one side (the left) and make your way to the other side (the flagpole), all the while crushing goombas, gathering magic mushrooms (definitely not Psilocybin), leaping over chasms and all manner of other stuff (discovering secrets, etc.).

Super Mario Bros. turtlesYouTubeSuper Mario cares not for the lives of innocent turtles.

It’s this loop — the level — that repeats over and over until you finish the whole game (the ultimate loop!). Loops are what drives that “one more game” mentality, what keeps you accidentally playing that game until 2 a.m. even though you’ve gotta wake up at 6 a.m.

And “DOOM,” “Ratchet & Clank,” and “Overwatch” all share this classic game device of “loops.” It’s at the core of each of these games, despite them being totally different types of games. It’s why all three are so, so good.

  • In “DOOM,” the main loop is based around killing demons (surprise!). You enter an area, the doors are closed off, and you have to kill X number of demons before you can move forward. Using the weapons, ammo, and health you have, you need to eliminate demons in tactical ways so you can keep resupplying your ammo and health (for every demon you kill, you get some health and ammo — moreso if you kill them with a melee attack). This loop is repeated over and over until you fight the game’s final boss (which has its own set of loops!).
  • In “Ratchet & Clank,” the main loop is based around weapon upgrades. The more enemies you kill, the more bolts you earn, the more you can upgrade your weapon (and repeat). That loop is broken up by goofy dialog and lots of other stuff, yes, but it’s this core loop that keeps players hooked.
  • And in “Overwatch,” the loop is the spawn/fight/die/respawn cycle. Your team has an objective — which is the bigger loop of the game — but what keeps me coming back is the urge to do slightly better each time I’m defeated. It’s a simple loop, no doubt, but an extremely effective one in the case of “Overwatch.”

So, no, it’s not just you, and it’s not just that “DOOM” and “Ratchet & Clank” are series with roots over a decade old. They are that as well, but all three are — more importantly — part of a classic gaming tradition that’s lying just below the surface.

In the classic words of Lay’s potato chips, betcha can’t eat just one.

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