[The idea for this article came from a post of my blog No Rules Required]
The rule of three is used in many things, from film and literature to comedy and religion yet is something that I had never really consider before when designing levels and game mechanics. It wasn’t until I was reminded of the rule at a workshop on how to do successful presentations that I even considered its uses in games design and consequently ended up fascinated with the number and the constraints it gave me when designing challenges, tasks and pacing in my games.
I have recently been working on an iPhone title where the player controls aspects of the environment to create a safe path for a character to reach his goal. Now although the idea itself and the mechanic had proven to be fun and entertaining I hadn’t really thought about it as a structured game yet and with this simple idea plaguing my mind I decided to use the rule of three to structure the game on various different levels. The first structural problem I tackled was that of the levels themselves, I wanted to create an experience that was humorous, fun and bite-sized so players could easily pick it up, have a go at a challenge then put it down again, ideal for people on the move.
So I set about playing with the rule of three and placing constraints on the game. I structured each level into three parts as follows:
Now that the level structure was in place I could focus on the puzzles and decided to also structure those with the rule of three in mind. They would need the following:
So using the rule of three I had come up with a clear and constrained level structure and puzzle structure to aid me when designing my game. I found that these constraints helped me be more creative in the designs I have come up with so far as they never allow me to stray off the path. Hopefully this will allow for a more thought out game that is still enriched with creativeness and is still fun. But I couldn’t stop there; because once I had started I thought of all the other game elements that I could create around this simple rule. The first that came into my mind after the initial game play was that of logistical games design. How was I going to keep my customers playing my game? It is here that I thought of collectibles and using the rule of three broke it down into three simple actions that could be used and why they would be used. They are as follows:
Okay so the last idea was relatively loose on the rule of three but still the principle is the same. Using three rules allows us as designers to structure our ideas into separate bundles, such as the way the game is presented. We don’t want to over complicate the menu system and risk losing the player before they even try the levels. So we can structure them simply with:
I even used the theory when designing the main character and based him on three simple shapes, a square, an oval and a circle. It simply stops me over complicating things and going overboard when coming up with ideas. Keeping things simple will always allow for cleaner design and the rule of three allows for this as designers and allows players to understand the game and its ideas easier. There will always be exceptions to the rule of course but as a design constraint it’s a mighty fine one and will give you a challenge. Why not give it ago yourself? I’m finding it quite inspirational making a puzzle game and wonder how it could be used in other genres.