Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gaming Glossary: A Rough Guide to Videogames Terms

Do you know your FPS from your JRPG? Is that a first- or third-party game you’re playing? And do you prefer your RTS to be isometric or not?

The following glossary is designed to cut through the jargon and acronyms that can cloak videogames writing, making it appear impenetrable to anyone but the initiated. A version of this appears at the end of the Rough Guide to Videogames, but this post will be added to and amended as time goes by. Suggestions welcome.

action-adventure
A broad game genre encompassing games that include combat or other perilous physical activity as well as exploration and puzzle-solving. Also sometimes action game or adventure game, or action RPG.

AI (artificial intelligence)
Dictates the actions of anything in a game that isn’t controlled by the player; great AI makes for more interesting and realistic behaviour by non-player characters or enemies.

analog controls
Buttons or other mechanisms on a game controller that react to gradations of movement; an analog stick, for example, will allow you not just to move in a specific direction, but to move slowly or quickly depending on the level of pressure exerted; compare this with digital controls, which offer just two states: moving or not moving.

arcade cabinet
A coin-operated games machine in an arcade.

beat-'em-up
A genre of one-on-one fighting, often martial arts. Examples are the Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter series.

beta
The stage in a game’s development when an almost-finished version is submitted to user testing to iron out any problems.

boss
An enemy at the end of a level which must be defeated in order to complete the level and move on to the next; they tend to be tougher than other opponents in the game.

cel shading
Computer-generated artwork that resembles two-dimensional cartoons in style, rather than aiming for photorealism.

console
A game-playing system that is hooked up to a TV screen, for instance the PlayStation, Xbox or Wii.

cosplay
The pastime of dressing up as characters from games at launches and other events; big in Japan, it’s now become popular in the UK and US.

cut scene
A non-interactive sequence that interrupts gameplay, usually designed to move the plot along.

developer
A person (or more usually a vast team of people) who designs and produces games.

digital controls
Buttons or other mechanisms on a game controller that offer just two states - on or off. Contrast this with the gradations of movement allowed by analog controls, above.

d-pad
A controller’s cross-shaped directional button.

emulator
Software that mimics the functionality of a console or other hardware, so that games can be played on a different system from that for which they were originally designed.

engine
The software backbone of a game, underlying programming that is often used across different games.

expansion pack
Additional content for a game, extending its life.

first-party
Used to describe a game developed by the same company that makes the console it’s played on, for example Nintendo games for the Wii.

first-person
Viewpoint whereby the player sees the action through the game character’s eyes.

FMV
Full motion video; see cut scene.

force feedback
Technology by which a peripheral such as a controller responds to signals in the game and vibrates correspondingly; for instance, when the car you’re driving crashes, when your character dies, or to signify recoil in shooting games.

FPS
First-person shooter, a shooting game with a first-person perspective.

god game or god sim
A strategy game in which you get to take control of the creation of a civilization or some other kind of human development such as a city.

handheld
A portable gaming system with an integral screen, for instance the PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS.

hit points 
A numerical representation of a character’s capacity for damage, especially in RPGs; if a character is wounded in battle or falls off a ledge, hit points diminish. Other types of game use graphic life meters or bars, which drain or change colour to indicate health.

HUD
Heads-up display; in an FPS it often gives information on health and available equipment.

isometric
Viewpoint that allows you to see objects from three sides at once, used in RPGs and strategy games to give an overview of a broad area.

JRPG
A roleplaying game produced originally in Japan; JRPGs are significantly different from Western style RPGs.

LAN
Local Area Network; in games, this is usually used to refer to a small-scale multiplayer setup.

life meter
See hit points.

localization
The process of changing a game so that it appeals to a different territory from the one it was originally designed for, including changing the language and altering anything that might be deemed offensive in the new territory.

machinima
An art form that uses in-game footage as the basis for filmmaking.

minigame
A short, usually simple game, either within a bigger game, or forming part of a collection of games often suitable for multiple players in a party setting.

MMORPG
Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game; an MMO is simply any massively multiplayer online game.

mod
Based on the code of an existing game, modding (from "modification") usually provides new levels for an old game and can even revise the gameplay setting beyond recognition.

NPC
A non-player character, controlled by the computer rather than the player.

PC
A player character, controlled by the player. (Or a personal computer, depending on context.)

peripheral
Anything you connect to a console or PC to facilitate gameplay, for example a controller, a microphone or a steering-wheel.

pick-up
An item picked up by a character that offers a usually short-term or one-off effect, for instance a weapon in a racing game, or a health potion in a platform game.

platform(er)
A genre in which the player’s character has to jump from 2D platform to 2D platform; the word is also sometimes used for the 3D version, in which characters have to traverse dangerous environments by means of accurate player control.

port
A later version of a game revised to work on a different system from the one for which it was originally designed. A game is ported to another console.

rhythm
A generally music-based game in which fast and accurate responses to prompts are required.

RPG
Roleplaying game; a lengthy game (fifty-plus hours of gameplay is not unusual) in which the player assumes the role of a character or characters. It usually has a fantasy setting. See also JPRG.

RTS
Real-time strategy game; a game in which the player’s actions and the computer’s reactions occur in real time.

save point
A predetermined place in the gameworld where the player can choose to save progress for continuing at a later time; some games have autosave points that do the same job. Often located before a boss or other perilous situation.

sim 
Simulation, a type of strategy game. The term is used in combination with whatever’s being simulated, for instance a flight sim or a theme park sim.

spawn
The reappearance of a dead character or defeated enemy. If Master Chief dies in Halo, for example, he’ll respawn in a safe location.

third-party
Used to describe games developed by one company for another company’s hardware, for instance a Rockstar game designed for the PS3.

turn-based
Describes a game or part of a game in which the action happens in a certain prescribed order; the computer will wait until a player has acted before taking its turn.

unlock
To access a part of a game, or an item in a game, that only becomes available once certain criteria are fulfilled. In some games, completion unlocks a further level, for example.

walkthrough
A detailed guide through a game, often written by fans. Also known as a game FAQ.