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Simplicity

Jul 30 // Agent Oli
It's taught at primary level education, when you want to simplify an equation in algebra you remove all unnecessary expressions. The same method of deduction holds true in games, examples include recent disappearances of the HUD in games such as Dead Space, Mario Galaxy, and Red Dead Redemption, helping the player focus their attention on what's important without the distraction of numbers and bars. This doesn't mean that developers are being lazy by taking things out of the game. The HUD is merely in hiding until needed, or being communicated differently. For example, a characters physical health can be displayed visually, as can the items equipped. And you don't have to be constantly aware of how much ammunition or money you have. Madden is a shining example of how reducing focus by adding extra features creates more value, often a few new features warrant new release of the game. If Madden 11 were a pie, it would be the fanciest pastry in the entire pie kingdom. Simplifying the next release of Madden only by reducing its content would make it tank in the market. But if the game's core mechanics were given a greater sense of value at the same time, maybe not. Let me give the example of this game made by and 8 year old named Ross, it is barebones and simple, but its focus on core mechanics makes it worthwhile for its short duration. http://thunderandlightninggames.com/ There is a general rule of thumb in the industry that a player should only have to press the "A" button (or click the mouse) three times in order to start a game from the main menu. Any more than that and you are just overcomplicating the menus and wasting the player's time. Assassin's Creed for PC infamously required 11 clicks to quit the game, and this complete lack of respect for the player could be seen as one reason why the port achieved lower review scores than on other platforms. Loading takes place in most games, while good developers strive to reduce these mandatory waits with optimization they are sometimes inevitable. However, in a similar way designers hide the HUD, load times can also be hidden. An early example of this where in early PS1 games where loading was lush and plentiful, tutorials and reading material where placed alongside loading bars to keep the players mind off the wait. Now, hiding load times has become more of an art, coming in the form of suspiciously long elevator rides such as in Mirrors edge, and doors that are a little bit slow to open in Metroid Prime. The current trend of installing games onto consoles may often take a long time, and is quite annoying. But people see the benefit in of time saved later. Examples in gameplay such as mundane fetch quests and backtracking are sometimes seen as a waste of time. Artificially increasing the duration of a game through cheap detours is seen as a way to add face value but at the cost of overall game experience. A short game at full price is acceptable only if the game experience is excellent. When a player learns the rules of a game world everything gets simpler. Simple rules lead to faster learning. People have a lot of preconceived ideas about how games should play. This can be used to a developer's advantage. For example, John Blow chose to make Braid a platformer because most people already knew how to play platform games. This meant he did not have to waste time on a tutorial, and could steadily teach new mechanics off the back of what every gamer knows already. On the flip side, Final Fantasy XIII spends twenty hours on what seems like a tutorial. This long process of learning is boring, receiving negative feedback from gamers, who often say the "good bit" of the game is discovered later. Square Enix could have allowed all features to be available from the start, letting players teach themselves, and provided optional tutorials. This would have resonated well with those already familiar with the franchise. Sometimes objectives and controls become so simple they do not require explanation. Indie games such as Blueberry Garden haven't been going through a trend of being too cool to tell you what you're supposed to do, or why. In reality they are trying to communicate objectives differently, and are another example of how developers hide what they feel is not necessary. In summary: This hasn't been about casual gaming or avatars, but a set of rules that can be applied to all games that attempt to successfully employ simplicity. Many designers have spent years in the pursuit of creating games that are simple to learn yet hard to master. This is blog serves as a starting point for those on a similar journey to me and for anyone just interested in games design generally. Thanks for your time!
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[Agent Oli, a self-proclaimed amateur game developer, shares his thoughts on game design, and points out a few things he thinks current game developers are doing wrong. He also shares some neat little drawings of Mr. Destruct...


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