In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
A common misconception is that complexity is a 1:1 ratio for depth. Depth is the amount of different aspects and interests that can be explored from a design, which can also come from the very simplest of designs. By stripping away everything that is unnecessary, we can fully and succinctly examine the most interesting parts of the games, the core, and the focus of the experience that can be garnered.
Ockham’s Razor, or the principle of parsimony, is assertion of simplicity of design over complexity of design. The design definition of Ockham’s Razor (Also known as Occam’s Razor and lex parsimoniae) is given a choice between functionally equivalent designs, the simplest design should be selected. Simply stated, unnecessary elements decrease a design’s efficiency.
I rather enjoyed playing Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. I found the experience to be very fun, and an engaging story told by the beautiful and masterful Studio Ghibli. Something I did not enjoy is how every three hours in the eighty-hour game, a new feature was added and implemented to increase the complexity of the game.
What started as “Get familiars, train familiars, beat up other familiars” wrapped around an endearing story of a boy and his mother turned into “Get familiars. Here’s another character to control, but she is far weaker than you. Press these four buttons to make everyone defend. Here’s another character to control, but he is far weaker than you. Feed your familiars specific random foods to increase one of ten stats. Evolve your familiars by using one of eight stones. There are three types of evolutions. Here’s another character to control, but he arrived 85% into the game. Read an in-game book to discern this riddle. Have fifteen more useless spells.”
Did I mention that I enjoyed this game? I find myself needing to repeat that statement. Based on the wall of text alone, there is nothing that seems enjoyable about that complex series of actions. However, the designers found it necessary to consistently add elements, therefore adding complexity, therefore theoretically increasing the experience garnered by the player. I would have been perfectly fine with just capturing and training my familiars though.
Design of Puzzles: Simple puzzles, simple solutions. The best puzzles and traps come from a player thinking “It was so simple, how did I not see it!” The difficulty for most interactions comes from the analysis of problem and reaching the primed answer. The difficulty should not particularly come from collecting specific pieces from the ends of the earth to form the right key.
By allowing the players to create their own depth from simple concepts, the complexity becomes organic and fluent rather than forced. If a pool is one-thousand miles long, but only holds a foot of water, it will be a sloshing walk across a thousand miles rather than a pleasant swim.
Design on Paper: The largest problem comes from trying to incorporate too much. Ambition is the number one killer of projects. Ockham’s Razor takes into account that a design does not need a million moving parts, but specific core concepts that can be elaborated upon throughout interaction. Before adding a new feature, designers would benefit from asking the simple question of “By adding this, what new actions can my players take?
A game should consistently be described as the actions the player can take. If your game takes place in the magical world of Fakevillia with ancient dragons and endless loot tables and specialized math for determining damage and three-hundred pages of character creation, I haven’t heard anything about what makes the game a game, as none of those are meaningful actions taken while playing it.
This is not to say that every game in the universe should be Tetris. This is simply to state that there are core concepts of actions that will promote the experience intended, and these concepts should be focused over all other aspects in designing games.
Enjoy our content? Have something to add? Join the forums and let us know! We also have positions available for contributors and writers. Inquire within to become a StrMod contributor today!